Volume 22 (2002)

RNCSE 22 (1-2)RNCSE 22 (1-2): Special double issue.

RNCSE 22 (3)RNCSE 22 (3) RNCSE 22 (4)RNCSE 22 (4)

RNCSE 22 (5)RNCSE 22 (5) RNCSE 22 (6)RNCSE 22 (6)

RNCSE 22 (1–2)

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
22
Issue: 
1–2
Year: 
2002
Date: 
January–April
Articles available online are listed below.

Farewell to the Santorum Amendment?

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Farewell to the Santorum Amendment?
Author(s): 
Glenn Branch
Volume: 
22
Issue: 
1–2
Year: 
2002
Date: 
January–April
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.

Despite the claims of creationists and other ideological opponents of evolution, the so-called Santorum Amendment - which, by singling out evolution as uniquely "controversial", was apparently intended to discourage evolution education - was not included in the No Child Left Behind Act, passed by Congress in late 2001 and signed into law by President Bush in early 2002. Although the Joint Explanatory Statement of the Committee of Conference contains a brief and not as objectionable mention of evolution, the Joint Explanatory Statement is not part of the law as enacted. Teachers in particular should be aware that the No Child Left Behind Act in no way requires them to teach evolution any differently than they do now.

Background

On June 13, 2001, the US Senate adopted a Sense of the Senate amendment to the Elementary and Secondary Education Act Authorization bill, S 1, then under consideration. Proposed by Senator Rick Santorum (R-PA), the amendment read:

It is the sense of the Senate that (1) good science education should prepare students to distinguish the data or testable theories of science from philosophical or religious claims that are made in the name of science; and (2) where biological evolution is taught, the curriculum should help students to understand why the subject generates so much continuing controversy, and should prepare the students to be informed participants in public discussions regarding the subject.

As Eric Meikle explained (RNCSE 2000 Nov-Dec; 20 [6]: 4), the fact that evolution is singled out as uniquely controversial amply indicates the amendment's anti-evolutionary intention. There were several indications that "intelligent design" proponents were instrumental in framing the resolution. In proposing the amendment, Senator Santorum cited a law review article coauthored by "intelligent design" proponent David K DeWolf, professor of law at Gonzaga University and Senior Fellow at the Discovery Institute's Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture. And the godfather of the "intelligent design" movement, Phillip Johnson, was quoted in the June 18 Washington Times as having "helped frame the language" of the amendment.

On June 14, the bill, including the Santorum Amendment, passed the Senate 91-8. It seems likely that most of the senators who voted for the bill were unaware of the antievolution implications of the Santorum Amendment, although Senators Sam Brownback (R-KS) and Robert Byrd (D-WV) alluded to them in their remarks in the Congressional Record. Unsurprisingly, anti-evolution groups such as Answers in Genesis were quick to rejoice at the token of support for their cause embodied in the Santorum Amendment.

Because HR 1, the version of the bill that passed in the House of Representatives, contained no counterpart of the Santorum Amendment, the House-Senate Conference Committee needed to reconsider it when it met to reconcile the two versions of the bill. Thus there was still a chance for the scientific and educational communities to influence the outcome. And they seized the day. The officers of almost 100 scientific and educational societies, together representing over 100 000 scientists, called upon the chairs of the conference committee to drop the Santorum Amendment. (See RNCSE 2001; 21 [1-2]: 7 for the text of their letter.)

In December 2001, the joint committee finished its work. The compromise bill was submitted to Congress, which passed it (renaming it the No Child Left Behind Act in the process) and sent it to President Bush for his signature, which it duly received on January 8, 2002.

The Good News

The good news is twofold. First, the Santorum Amendment was substantially weakened during its stay in committee, eventually appearing in the following two sentences:

The conferees recognize that a quality science education should prepare students to distinguish the data and testable theories of science from religious or philosophical claims that are made in the name of science. Where topics are taught that may generate controversy (such as biological evolution), the curriculum should help students to understand the full range of scientific views that exist, why such topics may generate controversy, and how scientific discoveries can profoundly affect society.

Note that evolution is no longer singled out as uniquely controversial: it is merely used as one example of a host of potentially controversial topics. The conference committee's wish to keep "religious and philosophical claims that are made in the name of science" out of the science classroom is, of course, fully supported by NCSE. "Creation science", including "intelligent design", indeed consists largely of religious and philosophical claims that are disguised as science, and that is why NCSE opposes its presence in the science classrooms of our nation's public schools. Note also that the Santorum Amendment's original desire for students "to be informed participants in public discussions" was replaced with the conference committee's desire for students "to understand the full range of scientific views" - although creationism might be regarded as a matter of public discussion, it is certainly not a scientific view.

Second, the Santorum Amendment, even in its weakened form, is not present in the bill that was signed into law. It appears only in the Conference Report, buried deep in the Joint Explanatory Statement of the Committee of Conference in Title I, Part A, as item 78. The Joint Explanatory Statement is not part of the bill itself; it is simply an explanation of how the conference committee reconciled the various provisions of the House and Senate versions of the bill. The law itself neither mentions evolution nor includes any sentiments reflecting the Santorum Amendment. Thus the No Child Left Behind Act in no way requires teachers to teach evolution any differently.

It appears as if the conference committee largely heeded the call of the officers of the scientific and educational societies. The Santorum Amendment was dropped from the bill; the fact that a weakened version of it was included in the Joint Explanatory Statement of the Committee of Conference, where it enjoys no force of law, was probably intended to appease religiously conservative constituents - politics is, after all, the art of compromise.

The Bad News

The bad news is that many creationists and other ideological opponents of evolution took the Santorum Amendment and jumped on the propaganda bandwagon with it. In a press release dated December 21, 2001, with the headline "Congress gives victory to scientific critics of Darwin", Bruce Chapman, president of the Discovery Institute, announced, "The education bill just passed by Congress calls for greater openness to the study of current controversies in science, notably including biological evolution." Although he evidently recognized that the Santorum Amendment was substantially weakened and that the weakened version appeared not in the bill but only in the conference committee report - writing that "What began as the 'Santorum Amendment' … now resides in report language" - he nevertheless misleadingly characterized the bill as "a substantial victory for scientific critics of Darwin's theory and for all who would like science instruction to exercise thoroughness and fairness in teaching about contemporary science controversies." Interestingly, Chapman harped on Darwin and Darwinists, although Darwin's name never appeared in the Santorum Amendment; the Discovery Institute's practice of tendentiously equating evolution and "Darwinism" is documented by Skip Evans in "Doubting Darwinism by creative license" (see RNCSE 2001; 21 [5-6]: 22-3).

Then, apparently in response to a precursor of the present report posted on the NCSE web site, the Discovery Institute issued a further press release on December 28, 2001, entitled "Congress urges teaching of diverse views on evolution, but Darwinists try to deny it". It also appeared in a slightly revised form as "Deny, deny, deny" by John West in WorldNetDaily. In both versions, West contended that NCSE originally was wholeheartedly against the Santorum Amendment and then, when it appeared in weakened form in the conference committee report, opportunistically engaged in "after-the-fact attempts to rewrite history" by praising the conference committee's wish to keep "religious and philosophical claims that are made in the name of science" out of the science classroom. Needless to say, he misrepresented NCSE's views: it was only clause (2)of the Santorum Amendment that was intrinsically objectionable.

The Discovery Institute was misleading on the status of the Santorum Amendment vis-à-vis the bill that was signed into law, but Phyllis Schlafly of the conservative Eagle Forum was downright wrong. In an editorial posted on the conservative web site TownHall.com on February 6, 2002, Schlafly wrote:

The "No Child Left Behind" bill signed by President Bush on Jan 8 includes a science requirement that focuses on "the data and testable theories of science". This new federal law specifies that "where topics are taught that may generate controversy (such as biological evolution), the curriculum should help students to understand the full range of scientific views that exist."

Because Schlafly was discussing the ongoing controversy about state science standards in Ohio, she may have been relying on misinformation about the Santorum Amendment posted on SEAO's web site, which was later corrected. To give credit where credit is due, the anti-evolutionist ministry Answers in Genesis recognized that the fact that the Santorum Amendment was not present in the No Child Left Behind Act was a defeat for the anti-evolution movement. In "Honest science 'left behind' in US education bill", posted at the AIG web site on January 7, 2002, Mike Matthews emphasizes that "The final version of the bill … says not one word about evolution or the controversy surrounding it" and remarks in a footnote that "The original Senate amendment was 'watered down' in two senses", citing the same changes of wording cited above.

Nevertheless, expect to see distorted reports of the Santorum Amendment in the antievolution press from now on. As we know from long experience, creationist misinformation is hard to quash.

Goodbye, Columbus

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Goodbye, Columbus (Ohio Board of Education intelligent design/evolution panel discussion)
Author(s): 
Kenneth R. Miller
Professor of Biology
Brown University
Volume: 
22
Issue: 
1–2
Year: 
2002
Date: 
January–April
Page(s): 
6–8
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
The much-anticipated intelligent design / evolution panel discussion sponsored by the Ohio Board of Education took place on Monday, March 11, 2002, in the Veterans Memorial Auditorium in Columbus, Ohio. Speaking on behalf of intelligent design (ID) were Stephen C. Meyer, an associate professor of philosophy at Whitworth College in Spokane, Washington, and a Senior Fellow of the Discovery Institute's Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture, and Jonathan Wells, the author of Icons of Evolution (Washington DC: Regnery, 2000) and, like Meyer, a Senior Fellow of the Discovery Institute's Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture. Speaking on behalf of evolution were Lawrence Krauss, the chair of the physics department at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio, and me.

My host (Patricia Princehouse of Case Western) drove me to the site about an hour before our 8:30 AM start time. Anticipating a crowd of thousands, the Board had moved the discussion from its original venue to Veterans, which has a capacity of 4,000. We paid $4.50 to park, and strolled past a group of "Repent or Burn in Hell" picketers into the huge theater-like room.

Lawrence Krauss and I set up our laptops, and within a few minutes Meyer and Wells arrived. We nodded to one another briefly and shook hands. The President of the Board, Jennifer Sheets, spoke to all four of us together, laying down the ground rules and making it clear that our presentations would be timed to the second — as, it would turn out, they were. Each of us was allotted 15 minutes to make a presentation to the Board, and Sheets, as moderator, was careful to ensure that no one ran over by more than a few seconds.

I had prepared my talk assuming that Wells would go right after one of my textbooks, and I was right. Leading with the "Haeckel embryo fraud," he displayed the cover of one of my textbooks that he said contained the fraudulent drawings, tsk-tsking that, although it was "nothing personal" against me, I had helped to spread Haeckel's fraudulent claims to students.

The rest of his 15 minutes was occupied by a recitation of the classic "icons" he discusses in his book. He showed a slide of a "peer-reviewed" 1999 article in The American Biology Teacher, told the audience about the "Darwinist persecution" of teacher Roger DeHart, and showed a slide with David DeRosier's picture from his "peer-reviewed" Cell paper together with Dave's comment that the bacterial flagellum, more so than other biochemical motors, has many features of machines designed by humans. In fact, I would wager that the single most repeated phrase in his talk was "peer-reviewed paper," which he applied to nearly every publication he cited.

He showed Darwin's drawing from the Origin illustrating the divergence of taxa, and commented on how poorly it described the great gaps between the animal phyla, ignoring the fact that it was designed to depict speciation, not the origins of major animal groups. To my delight, he introduced Michael Behe's argument from "irreducible complexity" (which meant that I would not have to explain it myself). He (correctly) anticipated that I would rebut Behe's argument, and tried to undercut what I might say by telling the audience that there was a well-qualified scientist in the audience (Scott Minnich) who disagreed with me — as if bringing along one more colleague from the Discovery Institute somehow made a difference.

Lawrence Krauss, Chair of the Physics Department at Case Western, spoke next. He was clear and forceful, and uncompromising on the standards of science — standards that "intelligent design" simply does not meet. In one of the most-quoted phrases of the morning, he pointed out that the two-on-two format of this presentation wouldn't render a fair picture of the sentiment in the scientific community. A more reasonable arrangement, he noted, would have one member of the Discovery Institute on one side, and ten thousand scientists on the other. He also made the telling point that two of the Discovery Institute's nine senior fellows were the ID speakers who were there; if they had not been there, the only place to find more advocates for ID would be back at the Discovery Institute. If Krauss or I had not been there, however, we could have been replaced by scores of scientists from just about any college or university anywhere in the state of Ohio.

Steven Meyer followed Krauss. His presentation contained cute, cartoon-like slides similar to the drawings I've seen in ID books. One compared the "controversy" to two shouting people holding signs labeled "Theory A" and "Theory B". How are students to deal with them? By being told that there's a controversy, of course. "Teach the controversy" was Meyer's message. He quoted Darwin on the importance of hearing all sides of a scientific issue, and then attempted to rebut Krauss's criticism of the fact that the ID people mostly seem to publish books by pointing out that folks such as Copernicus and Darwin had first published their theories in books, too. (While he was speaking, I scribbled a note on his pad reminding him that Darwin and Wallace had published a joint paper before the publication of the Origin. I am sure he was unimpressed!)

Finally, and most importantly, Meyer offered a "compromise" on the issue. This was, of course, accompanied by a slide labeled "compromise" showing cartoon people smiling, shaking hands, and slapping one another on the back. Compromises, apparently, make people very happy. The compromise was that his side was willing to drop its insistence that ID be placed in the State standards — if, of course, the standards made it clear that individual teachers should be free to teach the scientific controversy about Darwinism. This, he said, would help Ohio to open the minds of its students, and would meet the high standards for evolution education mandated by the "Santorum language" in the new education law, the No Child Left Behind Act. My jaw dropped as he concluded with this statement, but more on that later.

In the first five minutes of my presentation, I exposed Wells's tactics when he writes or speaks about evolution. I chose three of his icons to show how he misrepresents, distorts, or simply lies about the facts. These were the peppered moths, which he claims do not rest on trees, when in fact they do; the Haeckel embryo drawings, which I corrected in my own textbooks two and one-half years before he wrote about them in Icons; and human evolution, in which he used out-of-context quotes to distort Henry Gee's views of human evolution and systematically withheld data in order to provide a false picture of human evolution. The point that Wells is not reliable was made very clearly.

Both speakers from the Discovery Institute had stressed Behe's arguments about "irreducible complexity." I used Behe's own language to show that he has, in fact, made a testable scientific prediction based on his idea: that the parts of an irreducibly complex machine, such as a flagellum or a mousetrap, should be "by definition nonfunctional." Unfortunately for Behe and ID, both the mousetrap and the flagellum fail that test, falsifying the prediction. To the delight of the crowd, I illustrated the failure of Behe's prediction by pointing out that I had removed two parts from a mousetrap and was now using my "nonfunctional" mousetrap as a perfectly functional tie clasp! Wells and Meyer never brought Behe up again, except when Meyer claimed that my refutation of Behe would convince only people who heard only "one side" of the story. Curiously, he did not seem to be able to supply the "other side" himself.

I pointed out the many failures of ID to explain the fossil record, especially the problem of extinction, about which ID enthusiasts are notably silent — if all those organisms Wells claims were "designed" in the Cambrian were the work of an intelligent designer, why did all of them succumb to extinction? Neither Wells nor Meyer, of course, had an answer. Finally, I made it very clear that there was a simple way that ID could, in principle, find its way into the scientific curriculum, and that was the same way taken by every other idea that's there now — by fighting it out in the scientific marketplace. Instead, the proponents of ID are asking for special treatment from the government, a sure sign that their ideas cannot stand on their own merit.

The question period, in which each speaker was given one or two minutes to respond to each question, provided opportunity for us to reiterate and amplify our points. One particularly telling moment came when a questioner asked about the "Santorum" language in the No Child Left Behind Act, which supposedly requires the teaching of alternate scientific theories. Meyer enthusiastically agreed that it did, and urged Ohio to follow the "law". I stepped to my computer, asked for its screen to be projected in front of the audience, and then explained that I had a copy of the law on my laptop and would execute a search for the word "evolution," which supposedly is in the language of the bill. As the audience buzzed (and a few of its members chuckled), the search came up empty. Why? "Because," I informed the audience, "the ID folks have misled you" (I should have been blunt enough to say that they lied). Santorum's amendment to the Senate's version of the bill was watered down during the conference committee and then was relegated to its report. The language that Meyer cited is not part of the bill, was not signed into law by the President, and does not have the force of law. The effect on the audience was dramatic. The ID folks had been caught in a lie. How did Wells respond? Incredibly, he simply picked up a copy of the conference report and read the language slowly, apparently on the principle that if a falsehood is repeated often enough, people will begin to believe it. No one was fooled, however, and the ID folks had blundered badly on the most basic issue of all — telling the truth.

The rest of the hour-long question period was great fun as well. At one point I diagrammed the Cambrian explosion to make the point that the "major animal groups" Wells likes to talk about as appearing suddenly in a geologically short period of time include only the phyla, and do not include what most people think of as "major groups," such as insects, reptiles, mammals, and birds. It also completely excludes the plants, and I pointed out that nearly all the plant phyla (which botanists call "divisions") appeared well after the Cambrian. Wells then borrowed my drawing and, of course, contended that he meant "phyla" by "major animal groups," saying that he meant to mislead no one. And the phyla really do appear in the Cambrian.

As the question period drew to a close, the ID folks claimed that we wished to suppress the discussion of controversy. Krauss scored points with the audience by emphatically and humorously stating that, on the contrary, we scientists like nothing so much as "to prove another scientist wrong."

The final questions gave me an opportunity to plug my new textbook and to prove Wells wrong yet again in a single stroke. Speaking on the origin of life, he pleaded with the Board to reject a "dogmatic" Darwinian approach on the origin of life, and allow ID to explain to students just how uncertain and controversial theories about the origin of life really are. Textbooks, he implied, present the origin of life as solved. Since Meyer had already broken the commercial ground by plugging a videotape sold by the Discovery Institute, I gleefully held up my new textbook and quoted from the section on the origin of life, which clearly indicates the scientific uncertainties Wells had claimed that we suppressed. Another point lost for the ID side.

Post-debate chatter in the evolution camp was jubilant, if somewhat muted by the political realities of the current situation in Ohio. Krauss and I felt that we had exposed the empty nature of "design" at every hand. Yet to many members of the Board, it was doubtless clear that, at the conclusion of the debate, there were still "two sides" talking away on the issue. As much as I enjoy the debate format and the opportunity to expose the flimsy science and misleading tactics of the ID folks, the two-on-two format clearly promotes a misleading impression of there being "two sides to the issue," and that's the continuing danger. Nonetheless, Krauss and I had great fun, and the lack of scientific evidence on the other side was obvious to anyone who was willing to recognize it.

Michael Behe and "Intelligent Design" on National Public Radio

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Michael Behe and "Intelligent Design" on National Public Radio
Author(s): 
Steven Schafersman
Volume: 
22
Issue: 
1–2
Year: 
2002
Date: 
January–April
Page(s): 
35–37
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.


On February 13, 2002, the day after Darwin Day, Dr Michael Behe, a biochemistry professor at Lehigh University, appeared on "Talk of the Nation: (TOTN) on National Public Radio. Since the publication of his book Darwin's Black Box (New York: The Free Press, 1996), Behe has made dozens of public appearances to promote his creationist ideology and respond to criticisms with specious arguments; and he has – so to speak – learned on the job. Even I was impressed at the excellence of his sophistry. TOTN listeners would never surmise that every single one of the reviews of Behe's book in scientific journals by scientists thoroughly slammed his book and the ideas of irreducible complexity and "intelligent design" (ID) as unscientific and essentially worthless – a genuine argument from ignorance (many of these reviews are posted at Behe's Empty Box.)

Behe represented himself as a scientist persuaded by the evidence – not as a creationist with an agenda. To a question from host Melinda Penkava about how his ideas differ from creationism, Behe disingenuously answered, "Well, now to tell you the truth, I'm not real knowledgeable about creationism. I'm a Roman Catholic." Behe used his "I am a Roman Catholic" mantra more than once to divest himself of the creationist label. Needless to say, this argument against an embarrassing label – while apparently convincing in Behe's mind – is not really conclusive (since many Catholics are creationists – see, for example, Patrick O'Connell's Science of Today and the Problems of Genesis [Rockford (IL): Tan Books and Publishers, 1993], reviewed by Colin Groves in RNCSE 2000 Nov-Dec; 20 [6]: 17-8, 23-4). In addition, most of his ID colleagues would not be able to use the same argument!

Behe's analogy for why irreducible complexity proves "intelligent design" was simple: If one were to gaze upon Mt Rushmore, one would conclude that a sculptor – an "intelligent designer" – created the complex set of faces; these could not be due to natural wind and water erosion over time. Likewise, complex biological structures, such as the biochemical "motors" of bacterial flagella, are like little biochemical machines that should be interpreted the same way as are human-designed and -constructed machines, such as the outboard motor of a boat. Such features, according to Behe, are irreducibly complex – composed of many separate parts arranged so that if even one part were removed or altered, the structure would not work. Therefore, the separate and mutually interdependent parts must have been designed with a final purpose in mind; they could not have evolved as different and independent parts that fortuitously and ultimately worked together to form a functioning complex structure. This argument can, of course, be used with every biological feature, structure, and process, since all are complex and make use of interdependent and interacting parts, themselves exceedingly complex.

As readers of RNCSE know, this argument is over 200 years old; it has been thoroughly and consistently discredited by many thousands of scientific observations and experiments and, on this basis, is firmly rejected by scientists. "Irreducible complexity" is a term employed by Behe to argue that evolutionary processes cannot account for at least some of the observed complexity in living things. However, Behe's insistence that complex structures must always retain the same function and must be built step-by-step overlooks many well-known evolutionary processes. While it is true that there are complex biologic features and processes that would not operate at 100% effectiveness or even at all if one part were removed or altered today, legitimate scientists understand that these features and processes were formed by a natural process (that is, evolution by natural selection).

One point that Behe persistently ignores is that evolution utilizes precursor features and processes, perhaps less efficient and sometimes having completely different functions (in such cases termed preadaptations or exaptions), that exist as steps on the evolutionary pathway to the current feature or process. Despite their relative inefficiency, however, these features and processes nevertheless possessed adaptive value (that is, they contributed to increased fitness) of their own – irrespective of the function that they would eventually serve in future generations. They would thus be favored during natural selection and would adaptively evolve. Behe irresponsibly either ignores or dismisses this natural and historical explanation – which happens to be the one that other scientists accept. For Behe, apparently, complex structures have no history at all, which is why he can see only their proximate usefulness and current interdependence of parts. Behe is a creationist precisely because he does not seriously explore the possibility of the evolutionary historical modification and change of interdependent parts.

Where Behe gives the hoary creationist argument a modern twist is by introducing biochemical complexity. The older arguments were refuted by Darwin's demonstration – and subsequent demonstrations in developmental and molecular biology – that complex structures at the organ level could change by modification of existing parts. In this way, the eye could evolve by the gradual change of light-sensitive structures from generalized light sensors to the complex, highly-adapted, and efficient eyes of vertebrates and squid. All biologically complex features and processes at the organ and organ system level, and most at the tissue level, can today be explained this way, with abundant empirical genetic, physiological, anatomical, and fossil evidence to back up the explanations. This is not true, however, of such features at the cellular and biochemical levels: scientists simply do not know enough to explain how many of the complex features and processes at this level evolved – yet. Behe cleverly exploits these gaps in scientific knowledge, filling them with an intelligent designer. This is classic God-of-the-Gaps sophistry.

However, some of the gaps have been filled. A number of reviews of Behe's book have convincingly described some, if not all, aspects of flagellar evolution. The same is true for most of the other biologic features and processes claimed by creationists to be evidence of "intelligent design" and not natural evolutionary processes because they are irreducibly complex. We still have gaps in knowledge about the evolutionary history of all sorts of complex features and processes, but the gaps are not necessarily permanent. Scientists have been filling such gaps in knowledge and expect to keep doing so.

On TOTN, Behe also repeatedly mischaracterized modern evolution – what he called Darwinian evolution – by claiming that only random processes generated the complexity we see in organic life. Of course, natural selection, the primary mechanism of this process, is neither a chance nor a random process, but a wholly deterministic one – albeit one characterized by a probabilistic determinism that can only be studied and understood statistically. The irony of this frequent creationist misrepresentation of modern evolutionary theory as "only chance" is that the most important evolutionary process that makes modern evolutionary theory "Darwinian" is precisely the same process that prevents it from being exclusively random. A completely random process could never generate the diversity, adaptation, and complexity we observe in living organisms (as has been well documented by creationists!).

Behe's suggestion that ID can be tested by taking flagella-less bacteria and growing them for thousands of generations to see if they evolve flagella without "intelligent" modification of their genes was superbly audacious, but deliberately deceptive. A proper test of ID would involve its making some prediction about a biological process, event, or feature that could not, in principle, be explained by evolution but only by "intelligent design". Not only have there been no successful tests of ID reported in the scientific literature, there have been no tests of ID reported there at all, indicating the essentially nonscientific nature of the enterprise.

Behe also repeated the ID motto – the evidence shows design in living organisms, but "ID leaves the identity of the designer open". His colleague William A Dembski also uses this disingenuous disclaimer, saying that ID research points to "generic design", not necessarily supernatural design. It is scientifically (and epistemologically) absurd to accept these claims. Contrary to Behe and Dembski, there is no evidence for any true design in the structure of living organisms – in the sense of a purposeful planning of outcomes – but there is excellent and well-known evidence for natural selection as the cause of their apparent design.

Deborah Owens-Fink, a member of the Ohio State Board of Education (OBE), also appeared on the program. She did a remarkable job of pretending to be unbiased and positive about this issue, saying that "we need to be very careful that we don't get into the issue of religion, but yet, at the same time, that we also do not censor ideas that might go against what some elite scientists believe with respect to evolution … explaining the total diversity of life and origins of life." Owens-Fink, in reality, is one of the main proponents on the OBE in support of including ID in the state science standards. Without knowing Owens-Fink (a marketing professor at the University of Akron), I strongly suspect that her motives are religious. In my experience, no legitimate scientists or informed and unbiased laypeople are clamoring to include ID in science standards; only religiously motivated politicians and other non-scientists want to do this.

Behe's sophistic and misleading claims and his responses to arguments against ID might be convincing to many – perhaps most – listeners. It was the responsibility of the legitimate science supporter on TOTN, David Haury (Professor of Science Education at the Ohio State University), to refute Behe's pseudoscientific arguments, but he failed to respond adequately to them. This often occurs when creationists get valuable public exposure in the mainstream media. Haury truly has impressive credentials and a background in science education, so he should have done better; however, experienced and knowledgeable university professors are frequently unprepared for the specious arguments and rhetorical tricks that creationists use to promote their agenda, and thus are often ineffective against them.

I sent Haury an early version of this essay, and in defense of his efforts he told me that he tried to steer the conversation to the educational issues, remarking, "What is not…obvious to folks in general is that there are school issues that go beyond science, and I was hoping to move on to those issues more quickly by simply noting that [ID proposals] do not come to us from within the scientific community, are not embraced by scientists, and fail all tests of being identified as science. I did not want to waste air time getting immersed in debating his absurd ideas point by point." Haury was of course right to want to avoid debating irreducible complexity with Behe, but unfortunately he was not able to steer Behe away from the minutiae of his anti-evolutionism and to the broader issues surrounding science education.

Haury made one notable rhetorical mistake on the program, saying, "that the idea of 'intelligent design' and the theory of evolution do not talk about the same things. … [ID is about] how it all got started, [while evolution is] about how things change over time. … It makes no statement about the origins [of life]". He appeared to reason that, since evolution is indifferent to the way in which life originated, positing an "intelligent" force at the origin of life would not diminish evolution in any way. However, ID purports to explain both the origin of life and the generation of diversity, and both of these explanations conflict with well-established scientific theories – the abiogenic origin of life by chemical evolution and the generation of diversity by biological evolution. Thus Haury's statement seemed to allow that ID was a legitimate scientific theory about the origin of life; this mistake was unfortunate, since in such discussions it is important not to muddle the distinction between ID and science.

It was a pleasure to hear from the fourth guest, Ernan McMullin, a distinguished historian and philosopher of science at Notre Dame University and a person whom I admire for his historical insight and fairness on the creation/evolution controversy. He understood the issue perfectly, saying that "the motive behind this proposed measure in Ohio … is clearly one which would advance religion." Of course the efforts to politicize science education by requiring legislative oversight of evolutionary topics (a honor never bestowed on gravity, thermodynamics, or planetary revolution!) and to force ID into state science standards are politically and religiously motivated by the desire to include God and religion in the public school science classroom. There is no other credible reason for anyone to make such an effort. Clearly the reason is not to improve science education; otherwise the politicians would let the scientists and science educators write the standards themselves without political interference!

The callers to TOTN were wonderful: they asked questions that really put Behe on the defensive. Steve of Danville, California, asked the guests to address the "God-of-the-gaps" approach to science, correctly observing that ID was an example of this approach. Behe tried to turn the argument back against itself by preposterously claiming that "ID has grown stronger as we have learned more about science". He alleged that the God-of-the-gaps objection does not apply to irreducible complexity arguments for ID because we have learned that cells are more complex than we knew in the 19th century, when evolution was proposed to explain adaptive complexity in nature. He ignored the fact that the "irreducible complexity" is not the same as the degree of complexity; what is at issue is not complexity itself, but whether complexity is used to claim ultimate ignorance and the uselessness of further study. Behe responded with a warning against a "naturalism of the gaps" – a mistaken and specious characterization of the naturalistic methodology of science.

Mark of Columbus, Ohio, was especially perceptive about the issue. He wanted to know how the idea of "intelligent design" gave students a better understanding of how the world works. This, of course, is one of the major ironies of ID studies: unlike science, ID is a question stopper, not a question generator. Behe's response? He conceded that "Darwinian theory" works for some things, but for "other things it doesn't work at all. … I'm not going to say any more than when we drive past Mt Rushmore, we just throw up our hands and say because we can't understand how wind and rain did this, then it must have been designed." I think that this response is as good an example of the vacuity of ID ideology as anything could possibly be.

The next caller was Cynthia of Phoenix, Arizona, who agreed with McMullin about his characterization of the motive of ID advocates in Ohio. Behe replied that, in his opinion, topics like ID are mistakenly excluded from the public schools because people believe they have "religious implications". The real reason ID is excluded is because it is lousy science!

Irreducible complexity – one of the pillars that supports "intelligent design" – is an argument from ignorance. No real scientist would ever say, "this is so complex that it can never be explained by evolution, so I give up." Instead, a scientist would continue to formulate hypotheses to explain it and then test the hypotheses. Behe suffers from a very unscientific failure of curiosity, creativity, and nerve. Not only does he promote willful ignorance and pseudoscience, he encourages people to repress their intellectual curiosity – a moral lapse for a scientist!
About the Author(s): 

Steven D Schafersman
Department of Science and Mathematics
The University of Texas
of the Permian Basin
4901 East University Blvd.
Odessa TX 79762
schafersman@utpb.edu

Review: Darwin's God

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
22
Year: 
2002
Issue: 
1–2
Date: 
January–April
Page(s): 
49–51
Reviewer: 
Donald Nield
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Work under Review
Title: 
Darwin's God: Evolution and the Problem of Evil
Author(s): 
Cornelius G. Hunter
Grand Rapids (MI): Brazos Press, 2001. 192 pages.


This book is far from a dispassionate account by a professional historian. Rather, the author, formerly senior vice president of a high tech firm in Silicon Valley, is currently completing a PhD in biophysics at the University of Illinois. The book is part of the literature produced in line with the "Wedge" strategy of the group of "intelligent design" theorists associated in various ways with the Discovery Institute's Center for the Renewal of Science and Culture. This group is led by Phillip Johnson, and includes Michael Behe, William Dembski, and Stephen Meyer, all of whom have lauded the book on its dust cover. According to Johnson, Hunter brilliantly argues that Darwinism is a mixture of metaphysical dogma and biased scientific observation, that "at its core, evolution is about God, not science". According to Behe, Hunter argues perceptively that the main supporting pole of the Darwinian tent has always been a theological assertion: "God wouldn't have done it that way."

In chapter 1, Hunter writes "Darwin's concern with the problem of natural evil is apparent in his notebooks and in his published works" (p 14). However, Hunter does not document his claim, either here or elsewhere in his book. (In fact, Hunter gives very few direct quotations from Darwin, and almost all of these refer to scientific matters.) There is, however, one famous quotation from Darwin, that Hunter actually includes twice in his book – a quotation from a letter to Asa Gray (referred to via Stephen Jay Gould and David Hull), namely: "I cannot persuade myself that a beneficent and omnipotent God would have designedly created the Ichneumonidae with the express intention of their feeding within the living bodies of caterpillars."

Chapters 2, 3, and 4, on comparative anatomy, small-scale evolution and the fossil record, respectively, follow a common pattern. Hunter gives an outline of evidence for evolution, then discusses the problems he sees with the evidence, and finally talks about metaphysical arguments.

In chapter 5, Hunter looks at the works of five evolutionists who saw fit to continue with Darwin's long argument, namely Joseph Le Conte, HH Lane, Arthur W Lindsey, Sir Gavin de Beer, and Verne Grant. Hunter says that his survey shows that evolutionists who have attempted to prove their theory rigorously have routinely resorted to nonscientific claims. Hunter says that the arguments put forward in support of evolution "are either arguments for the mere plausibility of evolution or arguments against the doctrine of divine creation. Over and over we find arguments about why God wouldn't have done it that way, which work only with a certain concept of God" (p 113).

In chapter 6, Hunter asks and answers the question, how did the evolutionists' notion of God become so popular that it needed no justification? Hunter says that the answer lies in the history of religious thought, and after discussing the ideas of Descartes, Burnet, Halley, Whiston and Leibniz, he points out that one's view of evil is profoundly influenced by one's view of God. Hunter next turns to the theodicies of Milton, the Cambridge Platonists, Leibniz, Grew and Hume (a theodicy is a defense of the attributes of God against objections resulting from the existence of physical and moral evil). These writers moved away from the view that God creates and controls the world and toward a view that God must be separated from evil, and Hunter argues that Darwin followed the same theodicies and just filled in the details.

In chapter 7, Hunter examines how the modern doctrine of God influenced early 19th-century thought and Darwin's formulation of evolution. However, Hunter says remarkably little about Darwin, other than the quote from the letter to Asa Gray mentioned above. In the following chapter, Hunter gives a brief survey of divine sanction and intellectual necessity in evolutionary thought and how the acceptance of evolution has influenced our current metaphysics. Hunter gives another extract from a letter of Darwin to Asa Gray. With reference to a man killed by lightning and a gnat snapped up by a swallow, Darwin wrote; "If the death of neither man nor gnat are designed, I see no good reason to believe that their first birth or production should be necessarily designed." Hunter says that it was reasonable for Darwin to argue that God would not be personally involved in the swallow's attack on the gnat – not because of any finding of modern science but because of the persistence of Gnosticism into modern times, and given such a premise it was then reasonable to conclude that God is altogether removed from the world.

In a final chapter titled "Blind Presuppositionalism", Hunter discusses theistic evolution as expounded by Theodosius Dobzhansky, BB Warfield, Terry Gray, Howard van Till, Kenneth Miller, and John Haught. We are told that "like Gray and van Till, Miller professes to be a Christian", and "like Miller, Haught professes to be a Christian" (p 170, 172). According to Hunter, all these people except Warfield "accept and even rely on the Darwinian type of metaphysical arguments against the view that a divine hand is active in creating and sustaining the world." Hunter goes on to say:
Darwin … believed that God could not be responsible for nature's carnage and inefficiency, so he proposed a purely naturalistic explanation. Evolution was a theodicy, and keeping this in mind helps explain the different responses to evolution, including those critics such as Hodge and the theistic evolutionists. This perspective also helps explain how those who accept evolution wholeheartedly can be content with evidence that establishes merely the plausibility of evolution (p 173-4).
Hunter quotes a statement from the National Academy of Sciences that "No body of beliefs that has its origin in doctrinal material rather than scientific observation, interpretation and experimentation should be admissible as science in any science class", and he concludes that on this criterion evolution should not be taught in science classes because it includes religious presuppositions outside of science. His final sentence is: "Ultimately, evolution is about God" (p 175).

The question now is whether Hunter has made his case or whether his book should be regarded as a revisionist reading of history in line with the "Wedge" doctrine of the "intelligent design" movement. There is no doubt that Darwin was concerned with the religious implications of evolution, but was he driven by religious considerations? To help to answer this question, I have studied the book Charles Darwin and the Problem of Creation by Neal C Gillespie (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1979). The author was Professor of History at Georgia State University. Hunter gives eight inconsequential references to Gillespie's book, but does not seriously engage its ideas. Gillespie (p 135) wrote:
There can be no real doubt as to Darwin's theism during the years that he prepared for and wrote the Origin. Aside from the strong evidence in his writing, he tells us in his Autobiography that the need for postulating an intelligent First Cause as initiating the universe – a belief implied in the theological arguments in the Origin – "was strong in my mind about the time, as far as I can remember, when I wrote the Origin of Species." When Dr Pusey seemed to accuse him of having written the Origin as an attack on religion and not as science, Darwin replied indignantly that Pusey was "mistaken in imagining that I wrote the Origin with any relation whatever to theology" (not exactly the case, as we have seen), and that "when I was collecting facts for the Origin, my belief in what is called a personal God was as firm as that of Dr Pusey himself."
Theodicy is not listed in the index of Gillespie's book. In light of this, I find Hunter's thesis difficult to accept. Elsewhere (p 133) Gillespie notes that later in his life, in the passage that concludes The Variation of Animals and Plants under Domestication, Darwin presents us with the quandary that he himself never resolved: if God is omnipotent and omniscient then it is hard to see why he is not also irrational and even immoral in producing superfluous laws of nature and waste of life. "Thus we are brought face to face with a difficulty as insoluble as that of free will and predestination." Darwin certainly recognized that his work involved the problem of theodicy, but that is completely different from Hunter's claim that it was consideration of theodicy that led Darwin to advance his theory of evolution.

References

About the Author(s): 

Donald A Nield
Associate Professor
Department of Engineering Science
University of Auckland
Private Bag 92019
Auckland New Zealand
d.nield@auckland.ac.nz

Why NCSE Should Be Involved in the Science-Religion Dialog

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Why NCSE Should Be Involved in the Science-Religion Dialog
Author(s): 
Phina Borgeson, Faith Network Director
Volume: 
22
Issue: 
1–2
Year: 
2002
Date: 
January–April
Page(s): 
24
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
From time to time at NCSE, we hear questions from skeptical, agnostic, and atheistic members who wonder what we are doing getting involved with people of faith. Creationism in its several forms is, after all, largely motivated by religion. Many of the household names in evolutionary science are quite vocal about the death of religion as they see it, while others seem to see religion as tolerable as long as it is limited to private, individual faith or to informing moral and ethical decisions. So why would NCSE want to be involved in science and religion conversations?

Perhaps the first reason is simply that many NCSE members are people who belong to communities of faith. They support the teaching of evolution; they disagree strongly with creationist attempts to substitute their spin on religion for science, yet they are themselves religious. NCSE is a membership organization, and a part of what we do is support our members in their advocacy for evolutionary science. That means being where they are, and that is sometimes in the thoughtful dialogs between science and theology – the places not just where science and theology conflict and contrast but where they make contact with and confirm each other's assumptions and world views.

The second reason is what we might unabashedly call good politics. Not all Christians are creationists, and many are not happy about the appropriation of the name "Christian" as synonymous with anti-evolutionist – as well as with other reactionary and exclusivistic stances. Many Christians deplore equating "Christian" with the radical religious right and enemies of religious liberty. Many moderate and liberal Christians, and yes, even some conservative Christians, are our allies in working to keep religion out of the science classroom. We simply cannot make common cause with Christians who stand for evolution if we use the categories "Christian" or "religious" for one narrow stripe of Christian tradition and activism.

When working for Uni-tarian-Universalist Project Freedom of Religion in Southern California in the late 1990s, I did considerable reading and research on all the issues that were favorites of the religious right. Reading Perfect Enemies: The Religious Right, the Gay Movement and the Politics of the 1990s by Chris Bull and John Gallagher, I saw how easy it is to make perfect enemies – how tempting it is for both sides on a controversial issue to play to each other's prejudices, hobby horses, and weaknesses in such a way as to keep the conflict going without getting anywhere.

Two significant ways to avoid such a situation caught my attention. Do not adopt a campaign mentality, but build a movement for the long haul – a strategy at which NCSE excels. Another involves finding those people in the middle who are more open to dialog than invested in being the perfect enemy. When it comes to supporting the teaching of evolution, those people are most likely to be found among people of faith who reject the claims of the religious right, but themselves make faith claims of a broader and more exploratory nature. Allying with such folks is good politics. There is no need to make perfect enemies.

These are perhaps the major reasons, and the most obvious ones, that NCSE needs to be there in science and religion dialogs. But there are also softer reasons – reasons not just of obligation and expedience, but of values.

One I have already mentioned is the ethical connection. People of different faiths and no faith agree that the insights of both the biological sciences and of theological reflection are needed if the human community is to grapple effectively with issues in human genetics and the human impact on the rest of the life on our planet. While these issues are not primary to the mission of NCSE, the scientific literacy we support and advocate is partnered in public debate with theological and philosophical literacy. While actively working for better science teaching, free of religious restraints, we must also respect those exchanges in which we "deal with our deepest differences".

Finally, NCSE has been effective because we connect, encourage, and provide resources to people at the grassroots – dealing with real threats to the teaching of evolution in their communities. We recognize that it takes whole communities to do this, with activists from education, science, citizen groups, and religious congregations working together. Yet many religious congregations that want to be partners in our cause have not done the dialog work at the local level that can help them to argue for sound science teaching from a faith perspective. We cannot do that work for them, but we can point them toward resources that can help if, and only if, we are involved and informed about what is happening nationally and internationally in the conversation between religion and science.

RNCSE 22 (3)

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
22
Issue: 
3
Year: 
2002
Date: 
May–June
Articles available online are listed below.

Racism and the Public's Perception of Evolution

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Racism and the Public's Perception of Evolution
Author(s): 
Randy Moore, University of Minnesota
Volume: 
22
Issue: 
3
Year: 
2002
Date: 
May–June
Page(s): 
16–18, 23–25
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Daisy Bates's death in November 1999 reminded many people of one of America's most bitter civil-rights struggles: the struggle to integrate public schools. In 1957, Bates helped 9 black students to enter Little Rock's all-white Central High School. Although a federal court had ordered the integration of the school, Arkansas governor Orval Faubus became a white-supremacist folk-hero when he ordered 1200 armed troops to block the black students from entering the school. In response, President Dwight Eisenhower reluctantly sent in the 101st Airborne to escort the students to class and protect them from the mobs of angry, spitting, rock-throwing whites that had surrounded the school. The students, who became known as "The Little Rock Nine", received Congressional Gold Medals in 1999 in recognition of their courage (Lawrence 2000).

Although the story underlying the integration of Central High School has been told many times, another pivotal struggle that occurred just 7 years later at Central High is often overlooked. That struggle, led by biology teacher Susan Epperson, was to overturn Arkansas's 1928 ban on teaching evolution in public schools (the only such ban passed by popular vote; see Moore 2002a). During the struggle, Governor Faubus was a vocal critic of Epperson, basing his opposition on the same reasoning that he had used to oppose integration: "It's the will of the people." Although Epperson's legal struggle was not explicitly about race, the many links between the anti-evolution crusade and its underlying racial sentiments later became explicit. Indeed, racism has long been an issue in the creationism/evolution debate.

Evolution, Creationism, and Racism

How could evolution be used to support racism? We know that human geographic variants are recently derived and that genetic differences between them are superficial and trivial; there are, to echo the subtitle of Darwin's On the Origin of Species (Darwin 1859), no biologically "favoured races" of humans. Even biological distinctions of races are outmoded, for such distinctions are based not on biology, but on our cultural interpretations of nature (for example, see Gould 1977, 1993). Nevertheless, scientists and others have often used - or, more accurately, misused - evolution to support their racist ideas.

In human phylogeny, for example, some biologists, such as Alexander Winchell (1870, 1880), claimed that whites descended from non-whites, but that whites continued to progress while non-whites did not. As a result of this continued progress, whites became superior to non-whites. Other biologists argued, on the contrary, that non-whites degenerated from whites, and therefore are inferior to whites (see McIver 1994). The constant, of course, was the assumption of white supremacy, which various biologists argued for by considerations of neoteny (see Gould 1977, 1993), cranial capacity (see Stanton 1960), and intelligence (see Gould 1977). None of this supposed evidence for white supremacy has stood up to scientific scrutiny; the state of the art in the evolutionary sciences clearly and overwhelmingly indicates that racism is not scientifically justifiable.

Racist arguments have also been based on creationist beliefs, both scientific (or pseudoscientific) and religious. Before the Civil War, apologists for slavery claimed that the South's "peculiar institution" was sanctioned by the Bible, some adding that the Bible proclaims that blacks and whites do not have a common ancestry. Such claims continued to appear well after Emancipation and into the 20th century (Dickey 1958; Odeneal 1958), bolstered by the flourishing of various individuals and groups that promoted a mix of fundamentalist religious beliefs and racism.

The Ku Klux Klan, perhaps the most influential group to promote racism in the US, also opposes evolution (as the recent movie O Brother, Where Art Thou? depicted). Ironically, although the Klan wants to ban the teaching of evolution, it embraces the crudest form of Social Darwinism to explain and justify its racist ideology. Specifically, the Klan endorses the ideas of many "scientific" racists who claim that genetic differences between races are biological determinants of human actions and human destiny. Anyone who intervenes to remedy these inequalities is condemned as interfering with natural laws (for example, see Lewis 1962).

The Klan gave powerful support to the anti-evolution movement (de Camp 1968). William Jennings Bryan is a case in point. Although he was not a member of the Klan and disliked some of its views (for example, its anti-Catholic and anti-Semitic bigotry), he was "soft on the Klan" because he was "mindful that a host of his followers were just the sort of people who made up the Klan" (de Camp 1968). Bryan endorsed Klansmen in elections (Feldman 1999) and spoke passionately at the 1924 Democratic National Convention against an amendment denouncing the Klan (Alexander 1965; Ashby 1987; Chalmers 1965; Rice 1962). In turn, he received political support from the Klan (Anonymous 1924; de Camp 1968; Mecklin 1926).

In 1925, the Klan became the first national organization to urge that creationism and evolution be given equal time in public schools (see Wade 1987). In the same year, Bryan's participation in the Scopes trial turned it into a major event of international interest. When Bryan died five days after the Scopes trial, the Klan burned crosses in Bryan's memory, eulogizing him as "the greatest Klansman of our time" (Werner 1929). The Klan vowed to take up Bryan's anti-evolution cause, and a defrocked Klan official formed a short-lived rival group called the Supreme Kingdom, "whose primary purpose was carrying on Bryan's crusade against teaching evolution" (Larson 1997).

Although there was no formal connection between fundamentalism and the Klan, both movements appealed to similar people. According to McIver (1994), perhaps as many as 40,000 fundamentalist preachers joined and were active in the Klan. As Mecklin observed, "a fundamentalist would have found himself thoroughly at home in the atmosphere of Klan ceremonies" (1924: 100). Moreover, many of the leading evangelists of the early 20th century were fervent creationists who supported, and were supported by, the Klan (Moore 2001; Wade 1987). William Bell Riley - who founded the World Christian Fundamentals Association and sent Bryan to Dayton to prosecute Scopes - advocated white supremacy as well as a ban on the teaching of evolution. Similarly, evangelist Billy Sunday endorsed the Klan Kreed of white supremacy and bitterly attacked evolution. Bob Jones Sr's revivals were supported financially by the Klan (de Camp 1968). And J Frank Norris linked his attacks on evolution with assertions of the importance of white supremacy, warning his followers that white children would have to attend schools with and be taught by blacks.

Later in the 20th century, as most religious denominations in the US denounced the Klan, Southern Baptists - whose denomination was organized in 1845 as a haven for pro-slavery Baptists - were "unanimously silent on the question of the Klan" (Moore 2002a; Rosenberg 1989). "[A] silent but powerful accessory to the segregation pattern in the South" ([Anonymous] 1958: 1128; see also Rosenberg 1989), the Southern Baptists opposed not only integration and other antiracist efforts, but also the teaching of evolution (Ammerman 1990), denouncing Darwinism as "a soul-destroying, Bible-destroying, and God-dishonoring theory".

Other relatively mainstream institutions in which creationism and racism are intertwined include Bob Jones University, founded by Bob Jones Sr in 1927, two years after the Scopes trial, as "a college with high academic standards; an emphasis on culture; and a down-to-earth, practical Christian philosophy of self-control that was both orthodox and fervent in its evangelistic spirit" (Anonymous 2002a). " Until a massive public-relations problem forced the university to reconsider its policy in 2000, it prohibited interracial dating, which was viewed as "playing into the hand of the Antichrist" by defying God's will regarding God-made differences among the races (Hebel and Schmidt 2000). Today, Bob Jones University - the largest fundamentalist university in America - sells satellite-delivered anti-evolution academic courses (Carr 2000). And its creed contains the phrase "I believe in the creation of man by the direct act of God", which is glossed in a way to preclude any evolutionary interpretation ([Anonymous] 2002b).

Such disturbing hate groups as the Aryan Nations and Christian Identity have inherited the mantle of the Klan. Writing in the revealingly titled Christian Patriot Crusader, one Christian Identity writer asserts that Jews are satanic, that blacks are not human, and that evolution is a "satanically inspired Jewish fable" (Dowsett 1991). Although these are fringe groups, the results of a survey in which a significant percentage of students agreed that "[t]he color of a person's skin depends on whether God favored or punished their ancestors" (Lawson and Worsnop 1992) suggests that their influence may be felt in society at large.

A more thorough analysis of the many historical links between creationism and racism is provided elsewhere (Moore 2001; Shipman 2002).

The Vilification of Evolution

A favorite strategy of creationists has been to vilify evolution. At the Scopes trial, prosecutor William Jennings Bryan warned that "All the ills from which America suffers can be traced back to the teaching of evolution." More recently, Judge Braswell Dean of the Georgia State Court of Appeals stated in 1981 that "This monkey mythology of Darwin is the cause of permissiveness, promiscuity, pills, prophylactics, perversions, pregnancies, abortions, pornotherapy, pollution, poisoning, and the proliferation of crimes of all types" (quoted in Toumey 1994: 94) and in 1999, US House of Representatives Republican Whip Tom DeLay claimed that the teaching of evolution is linked to school violence, birth control, and abortion (Anonymous 1999). As part of this vilification, many creationists blame evolution for racism. For example, Henry Morris - the most influential creationist of the late 20th century - claims that "evolutionism" is satanic and responsible for racism, abortion, and a decline in morality (Morris 1989). Today, creationist organizations such as the Creation Research Science Education Foundation sell posters claiming that evolution leads to racism, Nazism, adultery, infanticide, stealing, murder, drunkenness, and homosexuality. Despite this late-20th-century spin associating evolution to racism, the links between creationism and racism have often been explicit in the fight to integrate public schools. Not all anti-evolutionists in the South opposed integration, but many did; for these people, banning the teaching of evolution was part of a heroic campaign to save "The Southern Way of Life" from race-mixers and atheists, who were equally evil in Dixie demonology (Irons 1988). These links were obvious when Susan Epperson challenged the Arkansas anti-evolution statute in the 1960s (Epperson v Arkansas; see Moore 2002a).

The Lessons of Epperson v Arkansas

In 1965, Susan Epperson was a young biology teacher at Central High School in Little Rock, Arkansas. She was deeply troubled by the fact that it was against the law for her to teach evolution, despite the fact that evolution is biology's unifying principle. Much of the mail that she received regarding her case was supportive; for example, John Roberts wrote to her on December 9, 1965: "I hope you win your case because students should know the truth." Yet despite issuing a statement affirming her Christianity, Epperson was attacked by many people as antireligious. Central High School, the site of racial turmoil in the late 1950s, was still seething with racism when she announced that she would test the state's anti-evolution law (Moore 2002a).

Many of her correspondents misunderstood evolution, as evidenced by a letter, dated January 20, 1966, which argued "Now, if man came from monkey, it seems the monkey would be no more. Or, else monkeys would still be having men and men giving birth to monkeys." Similarly, in a letter dated March 15, 1966, a correspondent claimed:
There is absolutely no foundation whatsoever for the belief in evolution ... People still produce people, cats produce a cat, dogs a dog, birds a bird, monkeys a monkey, etc. ... I beg of you to get down on your knees and cry out to God to give you wisdom and understanding.
Others used personal attacks to express their concerns about what evolution meant for their attractiveness and ego:
... if you want to claim relation to the ugly apes go right ahead ... ( undated letter)
Having seen your picture it is easy to understand why you would want to argue and teach that you evolved from this lineage. (undated letter)
You go right ahead Mrs Epperson and teach the ugly theory of evolution - because from the way you looked on TV, it could be true that man and woman did evolve from apes (letter dated, April 2, 1966, emphasis in original).
No wonder you want Arkansas to let you teach evolution in school; to look at you and your old Dad anyone would think you and he both started from a big old baboon. He looks like one and you look like a tailless monkey. ... America needs Bible teachers, not things like you. I pity your Mother for giving birth to such a girl. (anonymous and undated letter, Wichita Falls TX)
Others, though, apparently fearing that Epperson was an intellectual carpetbagger intent on forcing a new type of academic reconstruction on Arkansas's public schools, connected evolution with antiracism. The link was pointed out explicitly in an editorial entitled "Arkansas begins fight for freedom to teach" that appeared in The Ohio State Lantern on January 21, 1966:
And as for [Governor] Faubus - who used National Guard troops to prevent integration of Little Rock Central High School in 1958 - he probably finds the theory [of evolution] distasteful because, among other reasons, it implies that Negroes and Caucasians came from the same ancestor
The antiracism implications of evolution upset many people. Here's a portion of an anonymous letter to Epperson dated December 9, 1966:
If ... them cocoanut-heads [sic] up there want to believe there [sic] foreFathers [sic] are monkeys, apes, or gorillas, its [sic] OK, but don't let them shove it down our throat like Johnson did the Civil Rights law ... If I was a teacher, the first nigger that walked in my classroom I would walk out ... and don't think I wouldn't.
A similar link between racism and Epperson's lawsuit was made in a letter to Epperson dated May 1, 1966:
I can imagine, you refer to the Negroes ... One of many things [that] makes me mad at the Welfare Department. Pays Negroes to increase their population by leaps and bounds... [If] this actually enters court, it will sure scramble the Civil Rights Bill, I hope.
Others made more subtle, yet equally revealing, statements about the link they assumed between racism and evolution. For example, one letter writer closed his "Easter Sunday 1966" missive attacking Epperson with a telling postscript: "P.S. I'm white, too."

History's Lessons

Today, the links between evolution, creationism, and racism often remain explicit. A recent example occurred in April 2001, when Louisiana State Representative Sharon Broome introduced a resolution urging the state legislature to "reject the core concepts of Darwinist ideology" because the writings of Charles Darwin are "racist" and have been used by Hitler and others to justify mass murder and other heinous crimes (Good 2002). Although the Louisiana House Education Committee passed the resolution by a vote of 9 to 5, the Broome resolution was changed on the floor of the House. All references to Darwin and Darwinist ideology were removed, and the final version was simply a resolution to end racism and other forms of bigotry in Louisiana public schools (see the discussion in Good 2002).

There is a great irony here: creationists originally misused evolution to promote racism, but later vilified evolution as racist. The simple fact remains: there is no "inferior" race; the genetic differences between races are trivial. Neither evolution nor creationism is intrinsically racist, but both have been used to support racist ideas. Many creationists have denounced racism, but others continue to promote racism as part of their ideology.

Why do the links among evolution, creationism, and racism persist? Although the blatant racism of creationists such as Billy Sunday, J Frank Norris, and Bob Jones Sr seems a distant chapter of history, relics of these beliefs persist. Some people link racism with evolution out of ignorance; these misconceptions might be remedied with better teaching about evolution in which we explicitly address "the race question" (See "Why we should teach our students about race", p 25). However, many others have political purposes for vilifying evolution. Indeed, there are few accusations that are as strong and potentially devastating as that of racism, and the branding of evolution (and, by implication, people who support evolution) as "racist" immediately puts advocates of evolution on the defensive. This aspect of the evolution/creationism controversy, like many others, is not about science education; it is about politics and perceptions, and we should not expect this to change. Instead, we should be prepared to address the issue with scientific and historical facts and arguments. By exposing these misconceptions about evolution and racism in our classrooms and elsewhere, we can promote scientific literacy as well as social justice.

Acknowledgment

I thank Susan, Jon, and Elaine Epperson for discussing Epperson v Arkansas with me and for giving me access to their papers.

References

Alexander CC. The Ku Klux Klan in the Southwest. Lexington (KY): University of Kentucky Press, 1965.

Ammerman NT. Baptist Battles: Social Change and Religious Conflict in the Southern Baptist Church. New Brunswick (NJ): Rutgers University Press, 1990.

[Anonymous]. Bryan here Saturday. The American Forum, The Klan Paper for Province Number 5, Realm of Texas, Knights of the Ku Klux Klan 1924; 25 (52): 1.

[Anonymous]. Encyclopedia of Southern Baptists. Nashville (TN): Broadman Press, 1958.

[Anonymous]. Mr DeLay's power play. The New York Times 1999 Jun 20: 14.

[Anonymous]. Across the USA. Alabama. USA Today 2000 May 22; 15A.

[Anonymous]. About BJU: Philosophy and history. http://www.bju.edu/aboutbju/aboutbju.asp?section=history, accessed June 21, 2002a.

[Anonymous]. I believe in the creation of man by the direct act of God. http://www.bju.edu/aboutbju/creed/02creati.asp, accessed June 21, 2002b.

Ashby L. William Jennings Bryan: Champion for Democracy. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1987,

Carr S. Bob Jones U offers its controversial curriculum to high school students online. The Chronicle of Higher Education 2000 Mar 10; A47.

Chalmers DM. Hooded Americanism: The History of the Ku Klux Klan. New York: Franklin Watts, 1965.

Christensen J. Teachers fight for Darwin's place in US classrooms. The New York Times 1998 Nov 24; B3.

Darwin CR. On the Origin of Species by means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life. London: John Murray, 1859.

de Camp LS. The Great Monkey Trial. Garden City (NJ): Doubleday, 1968.

Dickey CR. The Bible and Segregation. Haverhill (MA): Destiny, 1958.

Dowsett FW. Kingdom identity. Christian Patriot Crusader 1991; 7: 3-6.

Feldman G. Politics, Society, and the Klan in Alabama, 1915-1949. Tuscaloosa (AL): University of Alabama Press, 1999.

Good R. Evolution and creationism: One long argument. The American Biology Teacher 2002, in press.

Gould SJ. Ever Since Darwin. New York: WW Norton, 1977.

Gould SJ. Eight Little Piggies. New York: WW Norton, 1993.

Hebel S, Schmidt P. Bob Jones U shifts its policies on interracial dating by students. The Chronicle of Higher Education 2000 March 17; A39.

Irons P. The Courage of Their Convictions. New York: The Free Press, 1988.

Kaminer W. Sleeping with Extraterrestrials: The Rise of Irrationality and the Perils of Piety. New York: Pantheon Books, 1999.

Larson EJ. Summer for the Gods: The Scopes Trial and America's Continuing Debate over Science and Religion. New York: Basic Books, 1997.

Lawrence J. "Little Rock Nine" leader honored for "real courage". USA Today 2000 April 2: 14A.

Lawson AE, Worsnop WA. Learning about evolution and rejecting a belief in special creation: Effects of reflective reasoning skill, prior knowledge, prior belief and religious commitment. Journal of Research in Science Teaching 1992; 29: 143-66.

Lewis J. Man and Evolution. New York: International Publications, 1962.

McIver T. The protocols of creationism. Skeptic 1994; 2: 76-87.

Mecklin JM. The Ku Klux Klan. New York: Harcourt Brace and Co, 1924.

Moore R. Racism, creationism, and the Confederate flag. Negro Educational Review 2001; 52 (1-2): 19-28.

Moore R. Evolution in the Courtroom: A Reference Guide. Denver (CO): ABC-CLIO Publishers, 2002a.

Moore, R. Teaching evolution: Do state standards matter? BioScience 2002b; 52 (4): 378-81.

Morris H. The Long War Against God: The History and Impact of the Creation/Evolution Conflict. Grand Rapids (MI): Baker, 1989.

Odeneal WC. Segregation: Sin or Sensible? Haverhill (MA): Destiny, 1958.

Rice AS. The Ku Klux Klan in American Politics. Washington (DC): Public Affairs Press, 1962.

Rosenberg EM. The Southern Baptists. Knoxville (TN): University of Tennessee Press, 1989.

Shipman P. The Evolution of Racism. Cambridge (MA): Harvard University Press, 2002.

Stanton W. The Leopard's Spots: Scientific Attitudes Toward Race in America 1815-1859. Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1960.

Toumey CP. God's Own Scientists: Creationists in a Secular World. New Brunswick (NJ): Rutgers University Press, 1994.

Wade WC. The Fiery Cross: The Ku Klux Klan in America. New York: Simon and Schuster, 1987.

Werner MR. Bryan. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Co, 1929.

Winchell A. Sketches of Creation. New York: Harper & Bros, 1870.

Winchell A. Preadamites, or A Demonstration of the Existence of Man Before Adam, second edition. Chicago: SC Griggs, 1880.

About the Author(s): 
Randy Moore
General College
University of Minnesota
128 Pleasant Street SE
Minneapolis MN 55455
rmoore@tc.umn.edu

The Evolution of Racism: An Interview with Pat Shipman

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
The Evolution of Racism: An Interview with Pat Shipman
Volume: 
22
Issue: 
3
Year: 
2002
Date: 
May–June
Page(s): 
13–15
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Earlier this year, Harvard University Press re-issued Pat Shipman's 1994 book The Evolution of Racism. In recent years, anti-evolutionists have promoted the idea that evolution is a racist theory — even to the extent of introducing legislation that calls for eliminating evolution from public education on the basis of its supposed racist implications (see, for example, the Louisiana paragraph in Updates, RNCSE 2000 Nov/Dec; 20 [6]: 6). We are pleased to present an interview with Pat Shipman about her important book and its account of how evolutionary theory was misappropriated in support of racist political and social policies. The interview was conducted by NCSE member Alan Walker; questions were furnished by Walker, Andrew J Petto, and Alex Wellerstein.

RNCSE: How would you describe the main theme of The Evolution of Racism?

Pat Shipman (PS): I wrote the book trying to explore the ways in which racism and evolution are intertwined and have been closely interconnected since the theory of evolution was first put forward.

RNCSE: Why did you choose to call the book The Evolution of Racism?

PS: The title has two meanings. First, the book speaks of the way racism and eugenics developed as evolutionary theory and its new view of biology became more widely accepted. Second, the book shows evolution as racists have painted it, as they have used and abused it for their own ends. So it is also a story about the special view of evolution created by racism.

RNCSE: What do you think is the relationship between evolution and racism?

PS: Racism, or tribalism, or "us versus them" is an old and ugly frame of mind. As the notion of a rational world — one that works according to discernable laws and rules rather than divine decree — has gained acceptance, many groups have seized upon evolutionary theory as a justification for their underlying beliefs and worldview. If the differences among living races can be explained as the working of a biological rule, then no one has to take the blame for the miserable consequences of treating others according to shorthand stereotypes rather than evaluating them according to their individual qualities. The other side of the coin is that it has been almost impossible to study objective and quantifiable differences and variability among living human groups because racists have so misused incomplete or inexact information to justify their views.

RNCSE: Racists, and more recently anti-evolutionists, have claimed that evolutionary theory has racist implications. How do the examples you use in your book show us how "scientific racism" relates to broader issues of scientific literacy and science education?

PS: Without an adequate understanding of science and the basic principles of gathering and evaluating evidence, you are extremely vulnerable to believing the poorly supported convictions of those with loud or persuasive voices.

RNCSE: To what extent do you think that racists sought evolutionary justifications for their already-held beliefs? Or did they develop these beliefs after looking at the results of scientific study?

PS: Scientists, like everyone else, are irrevocably influenced by their personal backgrounds, social status, family experiences, and cultural beliefs. This is normal and human, and not a bad thing. I hope to give people a greater awareness of their own prejudices and how they influence seemingly objective judgments like "this is a plausible theory" and "this is too outrageous a hypothesis, just impossible to believe." I believe that it is possible to become aware of the way our background influences our judgments and to practice becoming more open-minded. The truth is, in my experience, often surprising and usually uncomfortable. Neither of those is sufficient reason to deny its existence.

RNCSE: What do these examples of the extremes of science tell us about how it does or should function as a whole within our culture as both an intellectual and a social pursuit?

PS: Science has become an ultimate authority, almost on a par with religious writings. There is a tendency to say "it is true because they say so", and "they" can be scientists, religious figures, or any other sort of authority. I would like to replace that blind certainty in authority figures with what I think of as the basic scientific question: how would I know whether that is true?

RNCSE: Let me ask about some specific scientists (or pseudoscientists) you discuss. Madison Grant's book The Passing of the Great Race, which you discuss in chapter 7, seems to presage the "culture wars" of the 1990s. Is Grant's worry about genetic mixing a worry about reversing the evolutionary progress of "higher" races or rather one about who gets to control the social agenda (and politics and economics)?

PS: I believe that Grant's concern was primarily about social agendas, politics, and control over groups, although obviously there was a genuine underlying question about how people differ and what that means.

RNCSE: In the 1960s, Carleton Coon became a controversial figure after the publication of his book The Origin of Races, in which he argued that certain races reached the status of Homo sapiens before others, and that explains why different races reached different levels of civilization. Your treatment of Coon was a good deal more sympathetic than is typical in histories of 20th-century physical anthropology. How much of Coon's misfortune do you think had to do with his typological bent and hearkening back to an era in which the sociopolitical environment was different, and how much to changes in the field of physical anthropology itself — perhaps in reaction to the ways in which its methods and data had been used for evil?

PS: I think Coon was unfairly castigated both because he represented an older way of thinking and because, at the time he was writing and being damned by some of his colleagues, many anthropologists were trying to "clear the name" of the field as a whole by denying any racial variability existed at all. To deny variability among races (by which I mean populations that were once regionally- or geographically-based) is absurd. Anybody watching the Olympics or any other truly international event can see that there are physical resemblances (presumably based in genetic differences) among people of the same geographical race; combination of those traits can be used fairly easily to divide people into broad racial categories. There is no point in denying these commonplace observations, and to do so for political purposes strikes me as foolish. Of course there are differences among people, and it should be possible to study them intelligently and scientifically so that we all know what we are dealing with. It is much too easy to attempt to discredit an academic enemy by accusing him or her of racism; it is a charge that stains indelibly whether or not it is true. It is a cheap way of ducking a greater and more complicated responsibility.

RNCSE: At the end of chapter 9, you introduce the essential theme of 1990s work by J Phillippe Rushton, and Murray and Herrnstein — that since other biological traits vary according to the geographic origin of human subpopulations, we ought to accept that intelligence does too. Are the real scientific issues about the heritability of "intelligence" and its distribution among human geographic variations too complicated to explain to the general public, or too poorly understood, or just really unsettled among scientists?

PS: Biological traits do vary among geographical populations; I think that biological variability is a fact established without a doubt in humans as well as it is in, for example, ferns, seagulls, spiders, or frogs. Intelligence is a far more complex trait or set of traits than eye color or length of forearm, however, and our understanding of the genetics of even purportedly "simple traits" (such as the appearance of a particular bump on a particular tooth, for example) is very primitive. We need to stop ignoring or glossing over genuine genetically-influenced variability for fear of uncovering knowledge of those deadly and violence-inspiring differences in traits such as intelligence, morality, impulsiveness, or sexuality. We need to know what we are dealing with genetically so that we can then address the environmental influences on genetic traits with intelligence, wisdom, and kindness. For example, the main concept I took away from The Bell Curve is how pervasively harmful sheer stupidity is. If you look at an undesirable tendency — say, inability to hold a job, unusual likelihood of injuries, likelihood of having children at a very early age, likelihood of living in dire poverty — just about every one of them is closely correlated with low IQ or low performance on some other measure of intelligence. Never mind who performs badly on intelligence tests, which as we know are neither infallible nor perfect instruments for measuring intelligence. Let us talk about the fact that a small but tragic percentage of people do perform badly on those tests because their intelligence is low and it affects their entire lives and our whole society negatively. What are we going to do about it?

RNCSE: A repeated theme in the book — in fact all the most compelling examples of the rise and fall of prominent scientists — seems to be that, especially with the issue of race and in the context of evolutionary biology, someone was trying "to subvert science to their convictions". In what ways do you think that racism has evolved?

PS: Racism, like science (which it is not), has evolved more sophisticated techniques of gathering and presenting evidence. Other than that, the basic urge to protect yourself by gathering a cohesive group of "people like me" around yourself seems unchanged. What we need to think about, though, is that there is no end of misery and wickedness that can be caused by such exclusivity. We are all here, every race or subrace or population, on one world. It is far more useful to try to figure out how we can function as a complex and constantly changing admixture of genetic and social traits than to try to rid the world of whatever group you personally find most obnoxious.

RNCSE: At the end of chapter 14, you write, "The trajectory begun with Darwin has run its course." But later, you call for us to "prepare ourselves for this new level of debate...". Where is the debate going and what is the legitimate contribution of scientists who study human variation to the debate?

PS: I believe that we need to determine the truth of human variability as best we can and decide how to go on from there. But this must be done in full awareness that the truth about genetic distinctions among races is an ever-shifting entity. Every day, with every birth, the old geographically-based races are being transformed into some new admixture or melange. In this specific sense only, I would say that human races do not exist: today's "Caucasoid race" is and will be different from tomorrow's and yesterday's.

RNCSE: What is the proper message for these researchers to carry to the general public about human variation?

PS: I would say (1) that human variability exists; (2) that this variability reflects both genetic inheritance and environmental influences; and (3) that we have as yet no good evidence that the hot-button traits (such as intelligence, morality, impulsivity, sexuality, or predisposition to vote for one or the other political party) are genetically controlled or genetically predetermined. If they are, then I think that it is time for us to find out what the reality is, without fussing and accusing one another of dire agendas so as to block the research. Once we know what is true, then we can start to discuss what we want to do about that truth for the good of all. I would emphasize the last phrase, for I think we must move forward to considering the good of the species and of the world of other species with which we interact and not simply the good of each particular little group.

RNCSE: Of course, the message of the researchers is usually filtered through the press. Every time a new hominin fossil or a new DNA sequence is announced, the public is greeted with headlines that tell us that the entire family tree is being uprooted or that the new theory turns existing ideas on their heads. What do you think about the media's coverage of issues in physical anthropology in general?

PS: Reporters really like those headlines, even if they are inaccurate. Shame on them! It is possible to make people see the importance of a discovery without gross hyperbole. The most recent example is the report in Nature that indicates that Neanderthal DNA may be mixed with that of specimens of more modern appearance. How does this reflect on (a) the antiquity of "races"; (b) our understanding of the potential for genetic admixture in evolving humans; and (c) the meaning of geographical variation among human populations in the modern world? There is contradictory evidence about the role of Neanderthals in our own genetic heritage. One of the problems is that we usually have to work with incomplete and broken fossils, which show physical traits that may or may not reflect genetic differences. Some do, some do not, probably. As long as we cannot tell one (a genetically-controlled trait) from the other (a trait strongly or entirely influenced by environment), there is an element of uncertainty. I am still of the opinion that Neanderthals are too different from modern humans to be part of our direct lineage, but that assessment is subject to change as new fossils are discovered. Another way of putting my view is that Neanderthals are a biologically distinctive group and that I think (based on my personal prejudices) that they are too different to be the same species as me. What a species is and how it is to be recognized is a deep and difficult problem.

RNCSE: At the end of the book, you conclude, "As a species, it is time for us to grow up." What would a "grown-up" species have to say about its evolutionary and genetic heritage that is different from what we know now?

PS: Growing up, as an individual, is a process of becoming more aware of your strengths and weaknesses and more accepting of those areas in which you are realistically limited and those in which you can excel. Let me give a personal example. I am passionately involved in dressage, an equestrian sport somewhat akin to ballet with horses. I have had to accept that I am not going to the Olympics or even winning a regional championship. Other people are more gifted riders than I, more athletic, better coordinated, stronger, with better reflexes and a better sense of where their body parts are and what they are doing. I wish that this were not true. I wish that I could ride like other people who leave me gasping with their ability; heck, I wish that I could shimmy like my sister Kate. I cannot. I have to live with that, accept the fact, and decide how I am going to go on in the world with my limitations and strengths. That, I think, is an essential part of growing up.

RNCSE: In the epilog, you write, "Ignorance is never a solution." However, in many of the instances that you explored in the book, researchers were earnestly convinced that they were beating back the frontiers of ignorance. What is the proper role for academics and researchers in helping cultural and governmental institutions to interpret and act upon scientific discoveries?

PS: We have to struggle and strive to do better, to consider all the alternative interpretations of the data more rigorously, to dismantle or disable our own prejudices. Ignorance is never a solution. Glossing over or distorting the facts is not a solution either. Deciding that we do not like a particular sort of person and seeking scientific backup for our prejudices is not only "not a solution", it is at the heart of the problem. We must do better than that.

Tracking Those Incredible Creationists

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Tracking Those Incredible Creationists
Author(s): 
William Thwaites
Volume: 
22
Issue: 
3
Year: 
2002
Date: 
May–June
Page(s): 
30
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
I have studied creationists for a quarter of a century, but it still amazes me to read John Morris's recent claims in the newsletter of the Institute for Creation Research ("Cracks are widening in evolution's dam!" Acts and Facts 2002 May; 31 [5]) that evolution "has enjoyed total control" of the public schools for decades; that "students who object [to evolution] are often humiliated before their classmates and persecuted at grade time"; that evolution "gives a low view of human life"; that "naturalistic" evolution should be opposed and that evolution is (necessarily) "a religion".

Perhaps evolution has enjoyed total control in cartoons, movies, park displays, newspapers, National Geographic and other natural history magazines, and museums, but not in the public schools! We know that most public school teachers are very timid about teaching anything substantive about evolution. We know that about 25% of high school science teachers do not even accept the scientific validity of evolution. We know that almost all public high school graduates do not know the first thing about the mechanisms of evolution or the evidence for it, or even that evolution has nothing to say about the existence or nonexistence of a deity.

And regarding the "humiliation" of creationist students in the public schools, the instances must be few and far between. What public school teacher would risk his or her job doing that? And what constitutes "humiliation" in Morris's eyes? Does "persecution" mean more than that students who refuse to learn evolution fail their exams in the same way they would if they refused to learn the Pythagorean Theorem?

As for evolution's giving a "low" view of human life, the opposite is generally true. When evolution is presented or implied at all, it is likely to have a distinct ladder-of-life tone - and of course humans are portrayed in that view as being at the very top of that ladder. In the relatively few classrooms in which evolution is taught the way it is understood by the scientific community, the position of humans is presented as neither low nor high, only recent. The popular media may suggest that evolution says that we cannot help being immoral and unethical, but does Morris know of any documented cases of public school teachers - except creationists, of course - who teach that evolution mandates immoral behavior?

Finally, the distinction between philosophical naturalism and methodological naturalism seems to have gone completely over Morris's head (though he is certainly not alone here). How can a discipline that confines itself to natural material things have anything to say about a deity? Sadly, some of evolution's most noted promoters themselves have not quite come to this understanding yet. As Ken Miller points out in his Finding Darwin's God (New York: HarperCollins, 1999), these promoters contribute to keeping the creation/evolution controversy alive - at the very least by agreeing with Morris that evolution can and does disprove the existence of God. Morris should be arguing against Richard Dawkins and others who claim that evolution disproves God. The Morrises should support the people and organizations who, like NCSE, see that the natural sciences can never prove or disprove the existence of God.

It would be nice if the Morrises were only concerned about Christians' losing their faith in God as a result of overzealous claims made by some influential evolutionists. But such an enlightened quest for mutual respect between science and religion is not in the nature of the ICR. The battle that the ICR is waging is to promote a specific religious point of view that finds moderate and tolerant interpretations of Scripture as objectionable as the inappropriate religious claims made in the name of science. For the ICR, "compromise" is a dirty word.

About the Author(s): 

William Thwaites
2373 NW 185th
Box 264
Hillsboro OR 97124
wthwaite@sunstroke.sdsu.edu

RNCSE 22 (4)

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
22
Issue: 
4
Year: 
2002
Date: 
July–August
Articles available online are listed below.
This issue also reprinted NCSE's Analysis of the Discovery Institute's Bibliography (2002 Ohio Board of Education Science Standards) and its appendix

Quote-Mining Comes to Ohio

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Quote-Mining Comes to Ohio
Author(s): 
Glenn Branch, NCSE Deputy Director
Volume: 
22
Issue: 
4
Year: 
2002
Date: 
July–August
Page(s): 
11–13
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Contributing to the ongoing furor over the proposed science standards in Ohio (see the articles in RNCSE 2002 Jan-Apr; 22 [1-2]; 4-5, 6-8, 8-9, 9-10, and 11, and "Ohio: An Evolving Controversy", p 4), the Discovery Institute submitted a "Bibliography of Supplementary Resources for Ohio Science Education" to the Ohio Board of Education on March 11, 2002. NCSE sent its analysis of the DI's Bibliography to the members of the Ohio Board of Education (OBE) on April 2 and posted it on NCSE's web site at http://www.ncseweb.org/resources/articles/3878_analysis_of_the_discovery_inst_4_5_2002.asp on April 5, 2002.

In a lengthy rebuttal of the NCSE's analysis, the Discovery Institute complained to the OBE on April 8, 2002, that NCSE's "charges are not only groundless, but are a malicious distortion of the public record", adding that "The educational value of the articles is self-evident" and alleging that "every case of misrepresentation claimed by the NCSE dissolves completely on close inspection" (emphasis in original).

The rebuttal was also interesting because, possibly for the first time ever, the Discovery Institute explained what exactly it means by "neo-Darwinism":
  • the sufficiency of small-scale random variation and natural selection to explain major changes in organismal form and function;
  • the equivalence, given enough time, of the processes of micro- and macroevolution;
  • the usefulness of "molecular clocks" to determine historical branching points between species;
  • the existence of a single Tree of Life, with its roots in a Last Universal Common Ancestor (LUCA);
  • the congruence or matching of evolutionary trees (that is, phylogenies) derived from morphological and molecular evidence;
  • the appearance, in embryology, of a conserved stage revealing the common ancestry of all vertebrates.
Needless to say, the Discovery Institute's idiosyncratic definition of "neo-Darwinism" is not shared by anybody outside the "intelligent design" movement. On April 9, NCSE responded and informed the OBE:
NCSE stands by its analysis: in NCSE's view, and in the view of the majority of the authors of the publications in the bibliography who responded to NCSE's questionnaire, the DI's bibliography document is inaccurate, tendentious, and misleading. Moreover, despite the DI's desperate claim that "[t]he educational value of the articles is self-evident", NCSE reiterates that the bibliography is of no conceivable pedagogical value to K-12 science education. NCSE urges the Ohio Board of Education to rely on the expertise of the writing committee, scientists, educators, and fellow Ohio citizens, who have invested their valuable knowledge and countless hours in producing a superlative set of science standards.
On April 15, a revised version of the DI rebuttal, containing neither the word "malicious" nor any claim about the pedagogical value of the publications in the Bibliography, appeared at http://www.discovery.org/articleFiles/PDFs/quesAndAnsNCSECritiqueOfBib.pdf.

Working in the quote mine

The tactic of abusing the primary scientific literature for the purpose of misleading the general public is not new to the anti-evolutionist movement. Writing in 1981, John R Cole explained:
Creationists have developed a skill unique to their trade: that of misquotation and quotation out of context from the works of leading evolutionists. This tactic not only frustrates scientists but it misleads school board members, legislators, and the public. Whether such actions by creationists of selectively seeking out quotations or references in order to prove a preconceived case are willful distortion or the product of wishful thinking is irrelevant. Such acts misuse science and scientists in bogus appeals to authority (Cole 1981: 34).
The practice is so frequent among creationists (and other practitioners of pseudoscience) that it receives a name: quote-mining. There are even books devoted to nothing but quote-mining (such as Morris 1998). Quote-mining adds nothing to the discussion of scientific issues and generally confuses the nonspecialist with misleading and inaccurate interpretations of the original research - which, of course, is its goal.

The NCSE analysis of the DI bibliography combined with the responses of the authors to the specific issues raised by the DI show that this is another case of quote-mining. The DI is placing its own peculiar spin on the research presented in the scientific literature while ignoring the analyses and conclusions that the studies' authors have presented.

The text of the NCSE analysis appears in the feature article on p 11. We have also reproduced the original DI bibliography and the text of the query we sent to the authors cited by the DI. On page 25, we include an in-depth look at one article and the DI's summary of it.

References

Cole JR. Misquoted scientists respond. Creation/Evolution 1981; 6: 34-44.

Morris HM. That Their Words May Be Used Against Them. Green Forest (AR): Master Books, 1998.

Review: Infinite Tropics

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
22
Year: 
2002
Issue: 
4
Date: 
July–August
Page(s): 
28–29
Reviewer: 
Charles H Smith
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Work under Review
Title: 
Infinite Tropics: An Alfred Russel Wallace Anthology
Author(s): 
edited by Andrew Berry
London: Verso, 2002. 320 pages.
Some of the earliest surviving thoughts committed to paper by the English naturalist and social critic Alfred Russel Wallace (1823-1913) were in a lecture he entitled "The Advantages of Varied Knowledge". Composed around 1843, it advocates a broad-based approach to the individual's education, one that recognizes the assimilation of a wide range of facts — and their logical integration — as the foundation for a dependably evolving belief system. He argues: "... here we see the advantage possessed by him whose studies have been in various directions, and who at different times has had many different pursuits, for whatever may happen, he will always find something in his surroundings to interest and instruct him ... ". He concludes the essay with the following vivid imagery:
Is it not fitting that, as intellectual beings with such high powers, we should each of us acquire a knowledge of what past generations have taught us, so that, should the opportunity occur, we may be able to add somewhat, however small, to the fund of instruction for posterity? Shall we not then feel the satisfaction of having done all in our power to improve by culture those higher faculties that distinguish us from the brutes, that none of the talents with which we may have been gifted have been suffered to lie altogether idle? And, lastly, can any reflecting mind have a doubt that, by improving to the utmost the nobler faculties of our nature in this world, we shall be the better fitted to enter upon and enjoy whatever new state of being the future may have in store for us?
No one has ever heeded his own good advice better than Wallace did. Born poor but with an intense native curiosity, he worked as a surveyor to his mid-20s before abandoning that occupation to turn professional natural history collector. He spent the years 1848-1852 in the Amazon Valley, then the even longer period 1854-1862 in the Indonesian archipelago (then known as the "Malay Archipelago"), collecting up a storm. His 12-year stint in the tropics would eventually make him famous — not only for his formulation of the theory of natural selection, but as the father of the modern approach to biogeography, and arguably as history's foremost field biologist and tropical naturalist.

Wallace's success was due in large part to his perseverance: both in amassing facts of significance to the naturalist and in tying these facts to logical explanatory structures. He gave his attention to just about anything that was deserving of interest: the manner of construction of native huts; the economic uses of plants; the colors of animals; trade between cultures; the geology, climatology, and physical geography of the lands he visited; native languages and vocabularies; special biological adaptations; the presence or absence of species from location to location; ethnological similarities and differences; the relative sizes of insects; and so on. His 1869 book The Malay Archipelago in particular is a gold mine of such information, woven together with a compelling narrative that still never fails to amaze — especially when one considers how he accomplished all of it by himself, as a solo, unsupported naturalist/explorer.

Thankfully, all this determination and insight as an investigator of nature and humanity was wed to an easy and lucid — yet forceful — writing style. In 1855 Wallace published his first essay on evolutionary biogeography; this was followed in 1858 by the famous elaboration of natural selection sent to Charles Darwin. From then on, it was off to the races: he averaged over a dozen published works per year for the next 55 years, right up through the year of his death. Neither was there even any falling off in production as he aged; in the last (ninth) decade of his life he edited or wrote eight books, plus a hundred or so shorter items.

Which brings us to Andrew Berry's splendid anthology. This is the fourth print anthology of Wallace writings; earlier collections were edited by Barbara Beddall (1969), Charles H Smith (1991), and, just this year, Jane Camerini (2002). Beddall's and Camerini's studies are relatively short works that focus on Wallace's work from his period in the field. Smith attempted to survey the full range of Wallace's interests, relying primarily on the entire texts of about a hundred key works. Berry has taken a new track, sampling, again, from the entire range of Wallace's oeuvre, but usually showcasing short excerpts of a couple of pages or less in length. This tactic allows Berry a flexibility lending itself to a more biographically contextual approach, and he has used this strategy to produce a study combining writings and editorial narrative that does a very good job indeed of delivering the man and his ideas to the reader.

The selections themselves are very well chosen — and in the case of Wallace, a man who published nearly eight hundred works, most of which almost no one has cast eyes on for upwards of a hundred years, this is by no means an insignificant accomplishment. Further, Berry, who unlike the individuals mentioned earlier has never done any other serious research on Wallace, has managed to produce an editorial commentary which is just about free of error, and which avoids overgeneralizing about a man regarding whom overgeneralization runs rampant in the literature. I do find Berry's fascination with the possibility that Darwin stole material from Wallace somewhat ill-advised, and to that extent agree with the late Stephen Jay Gould's reservations on this matter as stated in his Foreword. On the other hand, I take issue with the accuracy and/or advisability of some of Gould's other remarks — here, as in his many other writings on Wallace, his comments seem more relatable to prior agendas than to a dispassionate view of Wallace's ideas and achievements.

The summary outcome of Berry's collection is that it succeeds admirably as a tease inviting further exploration. In a 430-page project, it is hardly possible to review a man's work thoroughly when that man himself published well over 10 000 pages of material; in the case of Wallace, the goal of review is especially difficult, as he was anything but a conventional thinker and often projected neatly logical trains of thought that led to wholly unanticipated conclusions. As a result, scholarship (not to mention public opinion) has made the mistake of paying too much attention to the sensational in Wallace's world view, and overlooking the elemental.

As a good example, it is well known that Wallace was a prominent anti-vaccinationist — a fact that might lend itself to a variety of premature conjectures as to the quality of his judgment. Actually, however, Wallace did not deny that smallpox vaccination had been a useful means of dealing with the problem in its early years of application. But, he argued, ambient improvements in public health, unsanitary vaccine preparation standards, and conflicts of interest within the medical community by the later part of the 19th century had possibly led to a situation wherein the vaccination procedure was causing more mischief than the disease itself. And he backed this up with a never-refuted statistical analysis of the best available smallpox incidence data: among the first epidemiological studies of its kind.

A second example lies in Wallace's beliefs as to the possibility of life on other worlds. It is often stated, incorrectly (and in the Foreword Gould contributes to the misunderstanding), that Wallace believed life existed only on earth. Actually, his view was that only earth harbors conditions promoting higher (consciously self-aware) life-forms. Of greater interest, one might argue, was the methodology he used to come to such conclusions. In the case of his famous criticism of astronomer Percival Lowell's belief that humanoid-constructed canals existed on the surface of Mars, this method invoked a close analysis of the probable climate of Mars and the likely condition of its surface. Many of his conclusions in this regard have turned out to be quite close to modern knowledge of the situation, and for his efforts he is slowly gaining recognition as a founder of the science of exobiology.

There is hardly a historical individual whose world-view touched on a wider range of subjects still relevant to present-day concerns than Alfred Russel Wallace. Berry has performed a great service by producing this collection, which manages to avoid hero-worship or uncritical review, yet offers up a thoroughly sympathetic portrait of a truly exemplary human being.

References

Beddell BG, editor. Wallace and Bates in the Tropics: An Introduction to the Theory of Natural Selection. Toronto: Macmillan, 1969.

Camerini JR, editor. The Alfred Russel Wallace Reader: A Selection of Writings from the Field. Baltimore: The Johns Hopkins University Press, 2002.

Smith CH, editor.Alfred Russel Wallace: An Anthology of His Shorter Writings. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991.

About the Author(s): 
Charles H Smith
University Libraries
Western Kentucky University
Bowling Green KY 42101
charles.smith@wku.edu

Review: King of the Crocodylians

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
22
Year: 
2002
Issue: 
4
Date: 
July–August
Page(s): 
30–31
Reviewer: 
Kevin Padian, NCSE President
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Work under Review
Title: 
King of the Crocodylians: The Paleobiology of Deinosuchus
Author(s): 
David R Schwimmer
Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2002. 221 pages.
Ever wonder how many books have been devoted to just a single fossil species? Jack Horner and Don Lessem did The Complete T rex. Ned Colbert published Little Dinosaurs of Ghost Ranch, about Coelophysis. Peter Dodson wrote about The Horned Dinosaurs and Ken Carpenter about The Armored Dinosaurs, but those were groups, not individual species. Besides, all those are dinosaurs. What about less "sexy" critters, like crocodiles?

Longtime NCSE member David Schwimmer, a professor at Columbus State University in Georgia, has published a very nice study of the giant crocodylian Deinosuchus, which was a contemporary of the last Cretaceous dinosaurs and certainly one of the largest crocodylians that ever lived. For that matter, it was one of the biggest land predators ever, even though its squatty crocodylian legs kept it closer to the ground than the big theropod dinosaurs like Tyrannosaurus and Gigantosaurus. It may have been up to 12 m long, or even longer, much like those dinos. And maybe it even fed upon them. And this may be the first book devoted to a single non-dinosaurian critter.

For people who get chills from big fierce animals, or even from good in-depth studies of big fierce animals, this is a fine book to curl up with. The interest is not only due to the fact that Deinosuchus was so big and fierce; in fact, it is hard to tell just how big and fierce it was because there are no complete specimens, and much of the skeleton behind the head is only known from fragments. But the charm of this book is that Dave Schwimmer takes readers through the processes by which paleontologists reconstruct animals like this from less than perfect remains. He covers the anatomy, and explains the functional morphology that gives us clues to the animal's behavior (with help from living crocs). He shows the lines of evidence from other animals, plants, and surrounding sediments that tell us what the environment of Deinosuchus was like. He explains its relationships and compares it with other crocodylians in its fauna (and elsewhere in the world), and he sizes it up against other heavy contenders. He demonstrates how paleobiologists have been able to calculate individual ages of specimens and reconstruct the growth strategy that explains how the animal could get so big. He even identifies what may be Deinosuchus poop (coprolites, for you purists)!

After running this whole gamut, Schwimmer astutely acknowledges that his audience may not be completely satisfied, because he has not talked that much about dinosaurs. Could Deinosuchus have preyed upon dinosaurs? Can we realistically visualize it, waiting under the water's surface for a hapless duckbill or juvenile ceratopsian? Could it have dispatched such creatures with a single lunge and crunch? Do we have evidence for any of this? Do you really think I would spoil the ending?

I must, however, clear Dave's name in one respect. Some readers will wonder, "But wait: David Schwimmer. Isn't he the actor who plays the paleontologist Ross on the TV show Friends? How could he write a book like this?" Amazing coincidence: Dave and the actor share the same name, and Dave (like Ross) did a good deal of paleontology work in New York, where there is a good collection of Deinosuchus. But there the coincidence ends. In fact, our Dave has an e-mail tag that reads simply: "I'm not Ross."
About the Author(s): 
Kevin Padian
Department of Integrative Biology
Museum of Paleontology
University of California
Berkeley CA 94720-3140
kpadian@socrates.berkeley.edu

Review: An Evolving Dialogue

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
22
Year: 
2002
Issue: 
4
Date: 
July–August
Page(s): 
32–33
Reviewer: 
Philip T Spieth
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Work under Review
Title: 
An Evolving Dialogue: Theological and Scientific Perspectives on Evolution
Author(s): 
edited by James B Miller
Harrisburg (PA): Trinity Press International, 2001. 544 pages.
The purpose of An Evolving Dialogue is "to provide a multidisciplinary educational resource for college, university and theological seminary educational settings, that will contribute to a constructive understanding of the dialogue between science and religion on the topic of biological evolution" (p 4). The book is admirably suited to its purpose.

Divided into five parts, the volume is composed of 28 articles that are reprints or revisions of papers published in the 1990s or late 1980s. The authors are major contributors in their disciplines. For the most part, their articles were addressed to a general readership. In its 2001 edition, An Evolving Dialogue is actually a clonal reproduction, with a macromutation, of an earlier version with a longer subtitle published in 1998. The fifth section of the 1998 version is "Evolution and Ethics"; in the 2001 version, it is replaced with a completely new fifth section consisting of 6 articles devoted to "intelligent design" (ID).

If a dialog between science and religion is to be successful, it needs to get its science right in order to provide a common ground upon which to build the dialog. The first two parts of An Evolving Dialogue provide a topical overview of evolutionary biology with articles by leading professionals such as Stephen Jay Gould, Mark Ridley, Douglas Futuyma, and Francisco Ayala. The two sections provide a reasonably good background for readers who are not versed in the evidence, theories, and principles of contemporary evolutionary biology. Biologists might find the articles useful for brushing up on a detail here or there.

The third part, "Historical and Philosophical Perspectives", includes an article on the concept of species by Ernst Mayr, followed by two particularly interesting historical articles. The article by Ronald L Numbers, published in 1986, predates the ascendancy of "intelligent design" as an anti-evolutionary perspective. Nevertheless, it provides illumination upon the mindset of creationists — for whom biblical inerrancy trumps scientific expertise — and serves as a needed reminder of the widespread hostility towards evolutionary biology that sadly exists among a significant fraction of the general public. John R Durant's 1987 article also predates ID but is eminently relevant to the issue. Durant gives a lucid exposition of the historical philosophical context that underlies the concepts of special creation and design and shows how these concepts were made philosophically untenable by the revolutionary impact of Darwin's insights.

The final article in the section is a reprint of Stephen Jay Gould's 1997 column in Natural History in which he elucidated his concept of non-overlapping magisteria (NOMA). It is not the most profound article in the volume, yet it gives a simple, clear definition of a philosophical point of view that pervades much of the book. Most of the scientists — and some of the theologians — whose articles touch upon both science and religion express some form of NOMA. A forceful example is Durant's comment:
If today we continue to be worried about the relationship between Darwinism and Christian belief, more often than not it is because we are faced either with science masquerading as theology or with theology masquerading as science. Only history can show us the full extent of the damage that is done by such pretense (p 266).
The fourth part is "Theological Perspectives". The authors include some of the leading contemporary theologians who strive to combine both good evolutionary science and good theology in their quests to find the proper relationship between these two important domains of intellectual endeavor.

In his article from 1996, John F Haught directly addresses the relationship between theology and evolutionary science, setting forth four "positions" — conflict, contrast, contact, and confirmation. This quartet provides an excellent functional framework for recognizing and classifying the contributions that different participants make to a dialog (or, for that matter, a debate) between science and religion. Haught's framework might provide a basis for developing a fuller, more closely reasoned, concept of NOMA, which falls under the rubric of "contact".

An important leitmotif in dialogs between theology and evolutionary science is the role of chance and indeterminacy. Haught explicitly recognizes the role of chance in evolution and its positive theological implications. And the theologian Elizabeth A Johnson, in her article from 1996, addresses the issue head-on. In a wonderful passage, she says:
No chance, no evolution of the universe. If it were not such an impossible oxymoron, chance might even be called a law of nature itself. Chance, consequently, is not an alternative to law, but the very means whereby law is creative. The two are strongly interrelated and the universe evolves through their interplay (p 358).
For evolutionary biologists, this passage should immediately bring to mind Sewall Wright's seminal ideas on the interplay between natural selection and genetic drift.

The fifth part is the site of the macromutation. It is also the section in which NOMA is violated. In the previous version of the book, the fifth part consisted of articles on evolutionary ethics, in which the authors pushed the envelope at the border between the domains of science and religion. In the current version, leading writers from the ID movement seek to infiltrate the magisterium of science with religiously-based philosophical ideas. Articles by the ID writers are paired with rebuttal articles, much as in the April 2002 issue of Natural History.

Two ID articles are by William Dembski; one is by Michael Behe. The first article by Dembski (from 1998) is an overview of the history and goals of the ID movement. The phrase "undirected natural causes" appears repeatedly, always in contexts in which it is equated with "Darwinism". Do not ask where natural selection is in this equation; it is not there. The major thrust of the article is Dembski's conflation of methodological naturalism and philosophical naturalism. He clearly wishes both to be removed from science. Raymond Grizzle's article from 1995 should be read immediately after this article. Directly addressing the proponents of ID, Grizzle essentially accuses them of violating NOMA. He makes a clear case for the necessity of maintaining methodological naturalism within the magisterium of science.

Dembski's second article (from 1997) is a semi-technical summary of his ideas of actualization-exclusion-specification and his theory of complex specified information. Brandon Fitelson, Christopher Stephens, and Elliott Sober provide an even more technical rebuttal published in 1999. Dembski has some interesting ideas for readers interested in probability. Unfortunately, his treatment is based upon a "neutral" theory of evolution. Natural selection is never included, which makes Dembski's arguments irrelevant to evolutionary biology.

Behe's article from 1996 gives an introduction to his concept of irreducible complexity. In turn, the article by Kenneth R Miller from 1994 shows that, when the evolutionary roles of contingency and jerry-rigging are taken into account, the empirical examples cited by Behe fail to justify the conclusions that Behe wants to draw from them. More generally, Miller marshals an array of empirical examples to demonstrate that the facts of natural history are not in accord with predictions that can reasonably be made from a hypothesis of "intelligent design".

Overall, An Evolving Dialogue is a fascinating book. It makes a good resource for courses that delve into the relationship between the magisteria of science and religion; Gould's and Miller's essays are both on the agenda for my course at Berkeley. Be warned, however, that the book's physical layout has a few problems. One must look in three places to find out when and where the articles first appeared and who the authors are. Typos abound. The winner is in the Southern Baptist statement quoted on page 285: "this Convention accepts Genesis as teaching that man was the special cremation of God".

About the Author(s): 
Philip T Spieth
NCSE
PO Box 9477
Berkeley CA 94709-0477
spieth@ncseweb.org

RNCSE 22 (5)

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
22
Issue: 
5
Year: 
2002
Date: 
September–October
Articles available online are listed below.

This issue also included the article Evolving Banners at the Discovery Institute.

Evolution Education Award for Steve Randak

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Evolution Education Award for Steve Randak
Volume: 
22
Issue: 
5
Year: 
2002
Date: 
September–October
Page(s): 
18
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
We are pleased to report that the recipient of the first annual National Association of Biology Teachers (NABT) Evolution Education Award is NCSE member Steve Randak, author of "The Children's Crusade for Creationism" (RNCSE 2001 Jan-Apr; 21 [1-2]: 27-8) and a voice for teaching evolution featured in the PBS series Evolution. Applicants were screened by a panel of judges looking for innovative and effective teaching, professional sharing, and community education efforts to promote accurate understanding of biological evolution.The award is generously sponsored by The Foundation for the Future of Bellevue, Washington, and includes a $1000 cash prize, up to $1000 for travel expenses to the NABT national convention, and a complimentary membership to NABT.

Randak has been teaching since 1967. In those years, he has distinguished himself in all the aspects used as criteria for the award. He has designed a highly successful curriculum, beginning with 4 weeks on the nature of science and deeply infused with evolution. He has created and adapted numerous classroom lessons and activities that effectively teach those topics. Some of those lessons became a part of the ENSI (Evolution and the Nature of Science Institutes) project, and are included in the ENSI web site. He actively participated in the second year of ENSI summer workshops, then became an active Lead Teacher, teaching the program in 7 Satellite ENSIs (SENSIs), reaching perhaps 150-200 teachers directly. He continues to create new lessons; his most popular recent contribution is "Footsteps in Time: Analyzing the Laetoli Trackways".

In addition, he has presented popular evolution workshops at many NABT and NSTA (National Science Teachers Association) conventions over the past 20 years. He has published articles in various journals relating to evolution teaching. One of his most notable innovations was his "historic role-playing": preparing, dressing, and presenting himself to his classes as prominent scientists from the past, including the role of Charles Darwin. He shared his passion and his techniques in an article for The American Biology Teacher. These efforts have garnered international interest.

In spite of his efforts (or perhaps because of his effectiveness), he and his colleagues were confronted with a mass student and community effort to include creationism in the district biology courses. A report on this confrontation, and how well it was handled, was included in the landmark WGBH/PBS series Evolution.

Congratulations to Steve from all of us at NCSE.

Trading on Genomes

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Trading on Genomes: Recent Creationists Use Genomic Data from Mycoplasmas
Author(s): 
Michael Buratovich
Volume: 
22
Issue: 
5
Year: 
2002
Date: 
September–October
Page(s): 
30–35
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.

Introduction

The advent of high-throughput automated sequencing has given the discipline of genetics the complete genomic sequence of several model organisms, including humans (Lander and others 2001; Venter and others 2001), rice (Goff and others 2002; Yu and others 2002), weeds (Lin and others 1999; Mayer and others 1999; Adam 2000; Salanoubat and others 2000; Tabata and others 2000; Theologis and others 2000), worms (Bargmann 1998; Blaxter 1998; Clarke and Berg 1998; Ruvkun and Hobert 1998), fruit flies (Adams and others 2000; Myers and others 2000), and yeasts (Goffeau and others 1996; Wood and others 2002). This explosion of sequence data has given birth to the new subdiscipline called genomics, which examines organisms from a whole-genome perspective. If our genes are trees and our genomes a forest, then genomics allows geneticists to examine the whole forest at one time instead of spending our time focusing on one or a few trees (Gibson and Muse 2002).

By far the group that hosts the widest range and largest number of organisms whose genomes have been completely sequenced are the prokaryotes, that group we colloquially know as the bacteria. Genomes from both free-living and pathogenic bacteria have been completely sequenced, as have genomes from many eubacteria and several members of the Archaea (Fraser 2002). Because of their small, compact genomes and the relative ease of growing large numbers of them, bacterial organisms make prime candidates for genomic sequencing.

Genomics has revolutionized the way questions are addressed and has provided valuable insight into how genomes evolve (Arber 2002; Doolittle 2002; Knight 2002). Nevertheless, creationists, such as Bryan College's Todd C Wood, are using genomic data to support their contention that living things were independently created only a few thousand years ago. These "recent creationists" claim that completed genomic sequence data from bacteria called mycoplasmas refute evolutionary theory (Wood 2001); this article is an evaluation of Wood's efforts. As we shall see, in order to fit the genomic data into his recent creationist paradigm, Wood has to ignore previous work on mycoplasmal phylogeny and misrepresent contemporary evolutionary thinking with respect to parasitism.

Mycoplasmas — Mighty but Miniscule

Mycoplasmas are very small, prokaryotic organisms that lack a cell wall. Their small size and flexibility allows them to pass through bacteriological filters — a feature that makes them frequent nuisances in cell cultures. Mycoplasmas also have very small genomes that are one-fourth or less the size of most bacterial genomes — a feature that make them particularly good candidates for genomic studies (Woese and others 1985). Mycoplasmal DNA has higher proportions of the nucleotides adenine and thymine (they are "A-T rich"), and mycoplasmas show unusual nutritional requirements (Weisburg and others 1989). Mycoplasma and mycoplasma-like organisms (MLOs) collectively compose a class of microorganisms called Mollicutes. Mollicutes contains a variety of organisms that show strong symbiotic associations with other living organisms. Some are associated with insects and plants (Entomoplasmas, Mesoplasm, and Spiroplasma), others are oxygen-sensitive and found in the rumens of bovine and ovine mammals (Anaeroplasma and Asteroleplasma), and some associate with plants, insects, and warm-blooded animals, but do not require sterols for growth (Acholesplasma; Tully and others 1993). The largest subgroup within the mollicutes is the mycoplasmas, which consists of organisms from the genera Mycoplasma and Ureaplasma that must associate with humans and other warm-blooded animals to survive; in some cases, they cause human and animal diseases (Razin and others 1998). Not surprisingly, completed genomes of several mycoplasmas are available (Fraser and others 1995; Himmelreich and others 1996; Glass and others 2000; Chambaud and others 2001). The genome of Mycoplasma genitalium (see cover) is the smallest known at 568 070 base pairs (Fraser and others 1995). Many plant MLOs have not been cultured to date, which has delayed their characterization (Lim and Sears 1989).

Mycoplasmas According to Wood

Wood begins his article by asserting that all disease, pain, and suffering are the result of the sin of Adam and Eve (Wood 2001). He states, "Creationists generally explain the Curse-related imperfections as degenerations of originally beneficial structures." This is a common recent creationist belief, but this statement essentially endorses the evolutionary concept of exaptation, in which characters that serve particular purposes initially are later co-opted for new functions (Futuyma 1998). In the case of pathogenic bacteria, these microorganisms possess virulence factors, which help them to cause disease by adhering to or damaging host tissues or evading the host immune system (Hacker and others 1997; Hacker and Kaper 2000; Henderson and others 1996; Kathariou 2002; Law and Chart 1998; Potempa and others 2000). However, according to Wood, these virulence factors arose from features that were not originally used for that purpose. Consequently, Wood would argue, for example, that exotoxin A from the soil bacterium and opportunistic pathogen Pseudomonas aeruginosa, which inactivates eukaryotic elongation factor-2 and causes cessation of protein synthesis and cell death in vertebrate cells (Beattie and Merrill 1996; Beattie and others 1996; Yates and Merrill 2001), somehow originally had a benign function that degenerated to an inimical function after the Fall.

In summarizing a review article by Christopher Wren (Wren 2000), Wood writes that Wren "discusses three possible origins for bacterial pathogenicity" — lateral gene transfer, antigenic variation, and genomic decay. According to Wood, "Of these three themes, genomic decay is most consistent with the creationist idea of a degenerating creation." The Wren review shows that lateral gene transfer, antigenic variation, and genomic decay are trends observed in the genomic sequence data from pathogens. All three events are well documented in the literature and the completion of genomic sequences from pathogenic bacteria has extended our understanding of them. In other words, these events are not guesses about what makes microorganisms pathogenic, but are events for which we have solid genomic evidence.

Wood mentions these trends in the genomes of pathogenic bacteria because he thinks that the mycoplasmas demonstrate the best-documented case of pathogen-associated genome decay, even though members of the genus Rickettsia show pseudogenes and split genes, which are both signs of continuing genomic decay (Andersson and others 1998; Andersson and Andersson 1999a, 1999b; Ogata and others 2001). However, Wood also seems to accept that lateral gene transfer and antigenic variation are contributors to microbial pathogenesis. How appropriate is it to build a model of acquisition of pathogenesis that selects only one of these mechanisms while ignoring the other two?

Wood regards the mycoplasmas as a bacterial group that shows phylogenetic discontinuity from other bacteria because mycoplasmas lack a cell wall and use an atypical genetic code. Such a statement shows enormous disregard for earlier ribosomal RNA studies of mycoplasmas that clearly links them not only with some of the gram-positive eubacteria with genomes that contain low percentages of guanine and cytosine — which includes the Bacillus/Lactobacillus group (Lim and Sears 1989; Hori and others 1981; Maniloff 1983; Walker 1983; Rogers and others 1985) — but also specifically with a small subgroup of Clostridia represented by Clostridium innocuum and Clostridium ramosum (Woese and others 1985; Rogers and others 1985; Woese and others 1980).

Is the lack of a cell wall an adequate reason to consider the mycoplasmas phylogenetically discontinuous from the other eubacteria? The answer to this has to be no. Other bacteria lack cell walls. For example, the archaebacterium Thermoplasma acidophilum lacks a cell wall, but is completely unrelated to the mycoplasmas (Walker 1983; Woese and others 1980; Woese and Olsen 1986; Sanz and Amils 1988; Gaasterland 1999). Thus the lack of a cell wall by itself is not uniquely derived.

Furthermore, the ability of bacteria to lose their cell walls is well documented. Cell-wall deficient bacteria (CWDB), or "L-forms" as they are sometimes called, can appear under a variety of circumstances, and intensive antibiotic treatment can select for the formation of persistent L-forms that are resistant to antibiotics that attack cell wall synthesis (Domingue and Woody 1997).

Since the mycoplasmas tend to associate with insect, plant, or warm-blooded-animal cells, the loss of their cell wall is not that difficult to envision. The immune systems of these host organisms constantly search for foreign substances or antigens, and microorganisms that present fewer antigens are less easily recognized by the immune response. Since the cell walls of bacteria contain many potential antigens (Chatterjee 1997; Haslberger and others 2000; Heumann and others 1998; Ryan and others 2001), long-term association of bacteria with specific hosts could select for the generation of CWDB (Paton 1987; Sladek 1986).

Likewise, the origin of the alternative genetic code of some mycoplasmas is not as mysterious as it might initially appear. In some mycoplasmas, the codon UGA, which acts as a translational termination codon in most organisms, encodes the amino acid tryptophan, but besides this exception the genetic code of these organisms is completely standard. Mycoplasmal genomes contain low proportions of guanine (G) and cytosine (C) content, which means that their genomes show the effects of "AT-biased directional mutation pressure", which means that base substitutions in mycoplasmas consistently favor the replacement of C-G base pairs with adenine-thymine (A-T) base pairs. Consequently, C-G-rich codons like CCN, GGN, GCN, or CGN (where N indicates any base) are rare in the coding regions of mycoplasmal genomes, and mycoplasmal proteins have fewer glycine, proline, alanine or arginine residues (see Table 1, p 25). In conserved proteins, mycoplasmas tend to have lysine residues, encoded by AAA and AAG, instead of the arginine residues, encoded by AGG, CGN, and AGA, found in the proteins of other bacteria (Razin and others 1998). Mitochondrial genomes sometimes use an alternative genetic code, and in this case it seems as though selection for a small genome streamlines the total number of tRNAs the genome encodes and favors the use of alternative codons (Knight and others 1999; Saccone and others 2000; Knight and others 2001). Here again the origin of an alternative genetic code is not mysterious (Osawa and others 1992). Therefore the insistence on discontinuity between the mycoplasmas and other eubacteria is almost certainly unwarranted.

Creationist Classification of Mycoplasmas

Since the discipline of taxonomy attempts to group organisms according to phylogeny, creationist classification schemes often suggest some taxonomic reorganization. Such rearrangements reflect the creationist belief that some organisms were created ex nihilo during the Creation Week and diverged since to produce extant organisms (Sarfati 1999). This emphasis on discontinuity between organisms motivated WJ ReMine to suggest a nomenclature for creationist taxonomy by adapting the term "baramin" coined by Frank Marsh in 1947 to refer to a "created kind". According to the nomenclature formulated by ReMine, a "holobaramin" is a "group containing all and only organisms related by common descent". An "apobaramin" is a "group of holobaramins that are separated from all other organisms by phylogenetic discontinuities". Finally, a "monobaramin" is "a group containing only organisms related by common descent, but not necessarily all of them" and a "polybaramin" is a group of organisms that do not share a common ancestor. ReMine gives the following examples to clarify his nomenclature: mammals are apobaraminic, the placental dogs are holobaraminic, but dogs and wolves are monobaraminic (ReMine 1990). It should be noted that this classification scheme still affirms that biological classification should reflect phylogenetic proximity.

In applying ReMine's nomenclature, Wood proposes that mycoplasmas compose an apobaramin. Since an apobaramin is a group of holobaramins that are separated from other organisms by phylogenetic discontinuities, the mycoplasmas must contain holobaramins. This designation is slightly problematic, since the typical criterion for a holobaramin is the ability to produce fertile offspring; since bacteria lack sexual reproduction, such a standard is unreasonable. Therefore the norm for designating a bacterial group as holobaraminic is somewhat arbitrary. Contemporary bacterial taxonomy often uses the percentage of DNA homology among bacterial genomes to distinguish among bacterial species, and such techniques determine phylogenetic sequences with some accuracy (Martin 2002).

Wood considers Mycoplasma genitalium and Mycoplasma pneumoniae to be members of the "same monobaramin". His reason for this is that the genome of M pneumoniae contains all the genes found in the genome of M genitalium, even in the same gene order. Furthermore, the genetic material unique to M pneumoniae is localized to 6 segments of the genome bordered by repetitive sequences. Since the recombination-inducing protein RecA is encoded by the genome of M pneumoniae, it is entirely conceivable that these M pneumoniae-specific segments were deleted from the genome by RecA-dependent recombination to eventually form a genome that resembles that of M genitalium (Himmelreich and others 1997).

While it is certainly reasonable to suggest that M genitalium and M pneumoniae are directly related by common descent, why should we exclude other mycoplasmas, since 16S rRNA analyses link other mycoplasmas, like M muris, with M pneumoniae (Weisburg and others 1989)? Also, these same studies definitively link the mycoplasmas to the gram-positive bacteria with low percentages of G-C base pairs, even though the mycoplasmas do show some diversity as a group (Woese and others 1985). These data suggest that the mycoplasmas are related to low G-C gram-positive bacteria and form a coherent, though diverse, phylogenetic unit. Such a close affinity with another bacterial group and the somewhat downsized nature of mycoplasmas is hardly coincidental. Certainly the best inference to draw from these data is that the mycoplasmas evolved from a common ancestor (Weisburg and others 1989; Maniloff 1983; Woese and others 1980). This makes their designation as "apobaraminic" highly questionable.

In discussing the sequenced Mycoplasma genomes, Wood uses outdated information. At its initial publication, workers thought that the genome of M genitalium contained 468 genes (Fraser and others 1995) and this is the number used by Wood. Since that time, however, further work and annotation have definitively shown that this was an underestimate. A global mutagenesis study published in 1999 has shown that the genome of M genitalium contains 480 protein-coding sequences and 517 total genes (Hutchison and others 1999). In addition, the genome of M pneumoniae does not encode the 677 genes that Wood quotes from the original reference (Himmelreich and others 1996). Instead, further annotation has shown that the genome of M pneumoniae encodes 688 proteins and 42 RNAs, for a grand total of 730 genes (Dandekar and others 2000). All of these studies were published before Wood's paper, but none is cited or discussed by him.

Mycoplasmas - Made to be Small or Got Small After Getting Made?

Because of their greatly reduced genomes, mycoplasmas lack a variety of biosynthetic genes, and Wood thinks that this is an important feature of their genomes. This leads to a potentially interesting question:
But how do we know whether the created ancestors of M genitalium or M pneumoniae had the ability to synthesize amino acids? Could the lack of amino acid synthesis genes be a design feature of this baramin? (Wood 2001: iii)
First of all, a lack of biosynthetic capacity is a common feature in many pathogenic bacteria, and genomic reduction is a hallmark of strict parasites (Andersson and others 1998; Ogata and others 2001; Fraser and others 1997; Fraser and others 1998; Kalman and others 1999; Stephens and others 1998; Read and others 2000). Therefore there is nothing unusual about the lack of biosynthetic machinery in the mycoplasmas.

Second, Wood never really answers the questions he posed above, even though he makes it clear that he thinks that M genitalium arose from M pneumoniae or an M pneumoniae-like organism. Therefore, we will answer them. According to contemporary evolutionary thinking, since bacteria arose before warm-blooded animals, all microorganisms that live on or inside animals had to evolve from free-living bacteria that eventually formed symbiotic relationships with warm-blooded animals. All organisms must have some kind of biosynthetic capacity in order to survive unless they are parasites and acquire all their nutrients from the host. Thus it makes sense to postulate that the ancestors of contemporary mycoplasmas almost certainly had some kind of biosynthetic capacity.

From the creationist perspective, if mycoplasmas were originally created to inhabit the bodies of animals, then they might have already had reduced biosynthetic capacities, in the same way that organisms living in milk are unable to synthesize amino acids found in milk. Alternatively, mycoplasmas could have been created as free-living organisms that eventually became animal commensals and parasites.

Which of these hypotheses fits the evidence? According to Wood, the decay of the genomes of mycoplasmas fits the Creation/Fall model, since the Fall is the event that begins the cycle of degradation. However, genomic reduction as an adaptation to a parasitic lifestyle also fits the theory of evolution, and many obligate intracellular parasites show extensive genome reduction (Andersson and others 1998; Ogata and others 2001; Kalman and others 1999; Stephens and others 1998; Read and others 2000). Furthermore, the kinship the mycoplasma share with the Clostridium group is not a surprise for the evolutionary model, but it does pose some problems for the Creation/Fall model.

Another piece of data that fits the theory of evolution is that mycoplasmal genomes show signs of gene duplication as well as genomic degradation. The genome M pneumoniae shows duplication of the lipoprotein genes (Himmelreich and others 1997) and in the genome of Ureoplasma urealyticum there are 6 closely related iron transporter genes that apparently arose by means of gene duplication (Glass and others 2000). In addition, Mycoplasma pulmonis is capable of phase variation whereby it alters its outer membrane protein composition to escape detection by the immune system. The genome of M pulmonis contains several variable surface antigen or vsa genes, and the number of vsa genes varies between strains, thus demonstrating the occurrence of gene duplications within one species of Mycoplasma (Chambaud and others 2001).

Because mycoplasmas show reduced genomes, any gene duplications are probably indications of adaptations to a parasitic or commensal lifestyle. Other examples of obligate intracellular parasites with genomes that host both examples of gene decay and adaptive duplications are the Rickettsia (Ogata and others 2001). Gene duplications are examples of organisms' increasing the "information content" of their genomes, and they conflict with the creationist dictum that "mutations never add information but only reduce it" (Grigg 2000). Thus the evidence suggests that the mycoplasma not only downsized their genomes, but also reinforced other genes to make themselves better pathogens. This favors the evolutionary explanation for the origin of mycoplasmas, since the gene decay found in mycoplasmas does not occur alone, but in combination with gene duplications.

Parasites — Creation or Evolution?

Finally, Wood wishes to construct a framework for how mycoplasmas became human parasites after the Fall. To do so, he compares his ideas with mainstream thoughts on the evolution of parasitism. Wood writes: In the evolutionary model, pathogenicity and parasitism is thought to progress from very virulent (aggressive) forms to harmless or even mutually beneficial relationships. Advocates claim that natural selection will favor hosts that are resistant to the parasite and parasites that are not rapid killers of their own host environments. Thus as time progresses, the parasites evolve to less virulent forms and the hosts become tolerant of the more benign forms of the parasites (Wood 2001: iii).
Instead, Wood argues, God created the mycoplasmas as mutualists or commensals that became parasites after the Fall. The adaptation to parasitism included degradation of the mycoplasmal genome. Thus, the evolutionary scenario is challenged by the Creation/Fall model, which predicts just the opposite.

Unfortunately, the evolutionary story Wood tells is oversimplified. His reference for the concept of natural selection's decreasing virulence is a 13-year-old textbook (Pianka 1988). In the 1988 edition, Pianka qualifies this general expectation, writing: "In other situations, such as when a parasite finds itself engaged in a race against its host's immune response, selection may actually favor increased virulence" (Pianka 1988: 296). One must ask why Wood did not consult a more recent edition of Pianka, in which he would have found this revised discussion of the action of natural selection on virulence in parasitic organisms:
To the extent that natural selection favors evolution of reduced parasite virulence (see also subsequent discussion), parasite interactions may evolve gradually toward commensalisms and ultimately even become mutualistic interactions. Of course, selection could also proceed in the opposite direction (reverse arrows). Such changes may also occur during ecological time, as during the ontogeny of parasites (Pianka 1999: 323-5).
Pianka then gives examples of natural selection's decreasing virulence in the case of the myxoma and influenza viruses and increasing virulence in malarial parasites (Pianka 1999). Therefore the result of natural selection on the virulence of parasites is not a simple equation that applies to every case. Pianka closes this discussion with the statement "natural selection should favor levels of virulence for parasites with different types of transmission between hosts" (Pianka 1999). Thus Wood has contrasted his own recent creationist view with an inaccurate rendition of contemporary evolutionary thinking regarding parasitism, which amounts to the construction of a straw man.

Conclusion

In conclusion, Wood's article does little to establish any evidence from sequenced bacterial genomes for recent creationism. His paper ignores the published data on mycoplasmal phylogenetics, creates a straw man of modern evolutionary thinking, and applies a taxonomic system that has no demonstrated efficacy in classifying extant microorganisms. Further sequence data from other model organisms is forthcoming and it is likely that such data will only make the creationist case that much more difficult to accept.

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About the Author(s): 
Michael Buratovich
Department of Biochemistry
Spring Arbor University
Spring Arbor MI 49283
/mburatovich@spring.edu

Review: Who Wrote the Book of Life?

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
22
Year: 
2002
Issue: 
5
Date: 
September–October
Page(s): 
36–37
Reviewer: 
Jeffrey M Otto
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Work under Review
Title: 
Who Wrote the Book of Life?: A History of the Genetic Code
Author(s): 
Lily E Kay
Stanford (CA): Stanford University Press, 2000. 472 pages.
According to the book jacket, this book consists of "a detailed history of one of the most important and dramatic episodes in modern science, recounted from the novel vantage point of the dawn of the information age and its impact on representations of nature heredity and society. Drawing on archives, published sources and interviews, the author situates work on the genetic code (1953-70) within the history of life science, the rise of communication technosciences (cybernetics, information theory and computers), the intersection of molecular biology with cryptanalysis and linguistics, and the social history of postwar Europe and the United States." This is an accurate, but incomplete, description of the book. In addition, and perhaps more importantly, the book is a discourse on why the author believes that the genetic code is not really a code in the true sense of the word, and why DNA contains chemical and biological specificity but not information per se. In the first chapter, she writes:
My thesis is that molecular biologists used "information" as a metaphor for biological specificity. However, "information" is a metaphor of a metaphor and thus a signifier without a referent, a catachresis. As such, it became a rich repository for the scientific imaginaries of the genetic code as an information system and a Book of Life. The information discourse and the scriptural representations of life were inextricably linked. Metaphors, as I will examine, are ubiquitous in science, but not all metaphors are created equal. Some, like the information and code metaphors, are exceptionally potent due to the richness of their symbolisms, their synchronic and diachronic linkages and their scientific and cultural valences (p 2).
After reading the book jacket, the preface and the first chapter, one is left with the question "Who is the target audience for this book?" As best I can tell, it is aimed at professional science historians. The writing is too difficult and unfriendly to be aimed at the amateur science history enthusiast. Furthermore, the author assumes that the reader already is familiar with the history and the individuals involved. A simple, limited biography on each of the key individuals at the end of the text would have gone a long way to help the reader. It is likely that a neophyte enthusiast who managed to maintain interest while wading through the difficult text would quickly be confused and frustrated by the constant infusion of new names, all without adequate introduction.

Yet I cannot imagine that the professional science historians would be much interested in this book either. The author's approach seems to be more fragmented than unified in her attempt to link molecular biology, linguistics, information theory, and yes, her own personal philosophy into this historical account of the unraveling of the genetic code. Had Kay restricted herself to describing the history of the unraveling of the genetic code, the text would have been much more accessible. This is all the more disappointing because the source material is rich and varied, consisting of quotes, letters, interviews, photographs, and drawings. It is unfortunate that Kay places such a large burden on her reader, expecting that the reader can pull together the salient details and form a coherent picture of this compelling and world-changing story with little help from the author.

While the writing style and her decision to focus on so many disciplines make the book a difficult read, it is actually her apparent philosophy on the nature of information and its relationship with DNA that I have the most problem with. Interwoven with Kay's description of the insights, experimentations, and technology that resulted in the discovery of the genetic code is her description of the researchers' struggle to reconcile their viewpoints on linguistics and information technology with their laboratory observations. On one end of the spectrum is the view that the "genetic code" is nothing of the kind; rather, it is a metaphor for biological specificity. At the other end of the spectrum is the view that the "genetic code" is actually the language for life, complete with all of its spiritual and scriptural qualities.

Kay, judging from her thesis statement in chapter 1 as well as her discussion in the conclusion, is a supporter of the first view. In a sense, her view, or others' for that matter, should not really matter. Whether one believes that the genetic code is a representation of the "Word of God" or that it is merely a representation for the biological specificity necessary for life, this belief does not change what it is. In the process of learning about or trying to understand something, we naturally liken things to one another. We relate the unfamiliar to the familiar and then document the differences. "'This' is like 'that' except for the following differences."

Thus, in trying to understand how a section of DNA relates to a specific protein, some researchers found similarities to a code, while others found similarities to a language, and others found similarities to neither. What I have to take issue with is Kay's assertion that DNA does not really contain information; rather, it represents biological specificity. In her conclusion, she argues for this by pointing out that despite our knowledge and understanding of the genetic code, science has been largely unsuccessful in understanding what we have read: being able to distinguish coding and non-coding sequences, being able to sort out the plethora of polygenic disorders, and finding any true promise in the field of gene therapy. This philosophy smells too much to me like that of the creationist: "Life (or some feature of it) is too complex to have evolved on its own. Therefore God (or some other designer) must have designed it." Kay seems to be arguing that because today we do not have all the answers, because we are not "fully literate in the language of DNA" (to use a different metaphor), that DNA does truly contain information.

In my opinion, DNA does contain information, information that directs a cell in how it should operate and behave. Today, when given an mRNA sequence, computer programs without the aid of human intervention can read that sequence and give the amino acid sequence of the resulting protein. Additional progress has been made in identifying signals for intron-exon junctions, transcriptional start and stop sites, and other regulatory signals. Today, our understanding of these sequences, this DNA information, is incomplete. Our understanding is even more limited when we consider the global landscape of the genome. How does a cell know which regions of the genome to leave active, while silencing others? How is development regulated? We understand that there is a dizzingly complex series of feedback loops, where DNA, RNA, protein, carbohydrates, fats, and a variety of small organic molecules all interact for the survival or death of the cell, tissue, organ, and organism. The information for these interactions, the instruction set, is all contained in the DNA. Our knowledge and understanding of this information is currently imperfect and incomplete. The complexity that results from the interactions between the cellular (and extracellular) components makes it difficult to tease out the necessary signals and information. This results in a "chicken or egg" sort of paradox. Again, regardless of what one's view is, it does not change the way things actually are. To deny that DNA contains information, based on our current inability to use it to describe life, is simply shortsighted.

In the end, I cannot recommend this book. Although I am impressed with the thoroughness and completeness of her research, I find that the process of bringing these ideas together has resulted in text that is unnecessarily dense and that ultimately falls far short of the promise inherent in this naturally compelling story.

About the Author(s): 
Jeffrey M Otto, PhD
Director, HAP Typing Facility
Genaissance Pharmaceuticals, Inc
Five Science Park
New Haven CT 06511

Review: Charles Darwin: The Power of Place

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
22
Year: 
2002
Issue: 
5
Date: 
September–October
Page(s): 
37–39
Reviewer: 
John C Greene
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Work under Review
Title: 
Charles Darwin: The Power of Place
Author(s): 
E. Janet Browne
New York: Knopf, 2002. 624 pages.
Readers who were enchanted with the first volume of Janet Browne's biography of Darwin will be equally pleased with this one. Here again Browne presents Darwin as the central figure in an expanding circle of contexts: the context of family, of upper-middle-class gentry, of Whig politics and religious outlook in a rapidly industrializing nation, of British naval domination and colonial empire around the globe. Darwin himself appears as a wealthy country gentleman settled comfortably in his house at Downe, surrounded by family and servants, in close touch with his scientific friends by letter and by occasional visits, protected from unwanted social engagements and professional responsibilities by chronic poor health, devouring scientific books and journals, observing and experimenting on the potted plants, pigeons, bees, and earthworms in his study, gardens, aviary, and the surrounding countryside, enlisting the aid of his children, servants, plant and animal breeders, and correspondents foreign and domestic in his search for facts, facts, facts — which would support his "subversive" theory of evolution by natural and sexual selection.

When Alfred Russel Wallace sent him an essay setting forth a similar theory and asked his help in getting it published, Darwin was forced into action. Darwin's friends Charles Lyell and Joseph Dalton Hooker arranged to have Wallace's essay and some of Darwin's unpublished writings — including a letter to the American botanist Asa Gray predating Wallace's essay — read before the Linnaean Society and published in its journal. Relieved but shaken, Darwin went to work preparing an "Abstract" of the big species book entitled "Natural Selection" begun in May 1856. In November 1859, Darwin's "Abstract" appeared in print under the title On the Origin of Species by Means of Natural Selection, or the Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life.

Janet Browne's account of Darwin's style of presenting his argument (p 53-7) is a masterpiece of interpretation and analysis linking that style to Darwin's gentlemanly personality, his use of well-known literary genres, his homely illustrations from the practical pursuits of gardeners and plant and animal breeders, his connections with leading men of science, and his implicit evocation of the competitive ethos and secularizing appeal to natural law in an industrializing British nation. "And what a book it was", writes Browne. "Few scientific texts have been so tightly woven, so packed with factual information and studded with richly inventive metaphor."

As to Darwin's mode of reasoning by analogy, Browne is certainly right that Darwin regarded the analogy between artificial and natural selection as "the best and safest clue" in unraveling the secrets of nature. In place of Aristotle's analogy of nature as a well-run household economy, Darwin proposed the metaphor of "natural selection" — evoking both progressive British scientific agriculture and the competitive market economy extolled by Adam Smith. But whether Darwin's metaphor was intended to suggest a godless probabilistic universe governed by "irregular, unpredictable contingencies", by "statistics and chance", as Browne seems to suggest (p 56, 283), seems doubtful. Although Darwin's theory can be seen in retrospect as requiring a revised philosophy of science, Darwin himself seems to have tried to be a good Newtonian scientist. In his big pre-Origin species book, he defined nature as "the laws established by God to govern the universe" — "his most magnificent laws" he had called them in his notebooks. In the Origin these became "the laws impressed on matter by the Creator", the succession of organic forms produced by them "ennobled" in the light of Darwin's theory.

Nor was Darwin's view of nature as "bleak" as Browne depicts it. He believed that natural selection brought about gradual organic "improvement", not simply adaptation. The more evolved forms tended to be "improved" forms. "If I have a second edition", he wrote to Lyell in 1860, "I will reiterate 'Natural Selection' and, as a general consequence, Natural Improvement." And he could sound like an evolutionized William Paley when, as in the closing paragraph of the chapter on "The Struggle for Existence", he reflected that "we may console ourselves with the full belief that the war of nature is not incessant, that no fear is felt, that death is generally prompt, and that the vigorous, the healthy, and the happy survive and multiply."

Having led her readers through the Origin, Browne gives a stirring account of how Darwin from his study, largely by correspondence, orchestrated the campaign to ensure its favorable reception, sending copies to his foreign correspondents and superintending arrangements for translations, combing the reviews, cheering on Huxley, Lyell, Hooker, Gray, and others in their efforts to assist him, and paying for republication in pamphlet form of favorable reviews. "Darwin's opponents", Browne writes, "failed to achieve anything like the same command of the media or penetration of significant institutions. Within a year after publication, it was nearly impossible to break into Darwin's tightly integrated group without some express homage to evolution."

In Part II of Browne's second volume, devoted to the 1860s, we see Darwin alternately at work on the successive revised editions of the Origin, on his beloved sundews, orchids, and Venus fly traps, on two fat volumes on variation under domestication (containing his ill-fated theory of heredity called "pangenesis"), and on the growing anthropological and archaeological literature concerning cultural evolution, until overwork ruined his health and aged him noticeably. Janet Browne weaves the story of these years skillfully, empathizing with Darwin's love of observing and experimenting on plants, noting how all his research was directed toward vindicating his theory of evolution by natural selection, how that theory and Malthusian political economy were part of a common cultural context, how Darwin's Origin was received by philosophers, philologists, literary figures, American transcendentalists and Unitarians, and by scientists such as Alfred Russel Wallace and his erstwhile traveling companion in Brazil Henry Walter Bates, and, finally, how science had become Darwin's lifeline. "Without this, he had 'nothing' to make his life worth living."

As the post-Origin decade drew to a close, Browne explains, Darwin felt compelled to publish his views on human evolution — views he had feared to make known, hoping that Lyell or Wallace would step forward. Determined to defend his theories, Darwin began work on the book which, after considerable negotiation with his publisher, bore the title The Descent of Man and Selection in Relation to Sex.

In her discussion of this, the most revolutionary of Darwin's books, Browne cannot muster the same enthusiasm she displays in her account of the Origin. Darwin, she says, was trying to do too many different things — the natural history and lineage of mankind, the mental faculties of animals and humans, the origin of language, morals, and music, sexual selection in animals and humans, and the human progress from savagery to civilization. Browne reports Darwin's views on these subjects mostly without comment, although she obviously has reservations about some of these views. We learn that Darwin thought that language had emerged gradually from the vocalizations of apes, that religious belief was nothing more than a primitive urge to bestow a cause on otherwise inexplicable natural events, that moral values were relative, that there had been a progressive advance in moral sentiment ("the 'higher' values were, for him, ... the values of his own class and nation"), that "although he rejected the outward trappings of the established Anglican religion, he subscribed wholeheartedly to its underlying values and presumed the onward march of civilization", that men possessed an innate intellectual superiority over women, and that his theory of sexual selection could explain not only the diverging physiques and behavior patterns of males and females but also the origin of human geographical diversity, perhaps even the foundations of human civilization itself.

The theory of sexual selection, Browne declares, lay at the center of his argument concerning human evolution. Why Darwin should have devoted more than half of his book on humans to sexual selection in non-human animals remains unexplained. Browne suggests that Darwin was making an analogy to artificial selection, in which "breeders chose traits for 'use or ornament," imposing their own taste or judgment on organisms".

But Darwin was not done with humans. No sooner was the Descent published than he resumed his studies on the expression of emotion in humans and nonhuman animals — the third and final link in the merging of human and animal evolution which Darwin had envisaged in his 1830s notebooks. Once again, through Browne's fluent prose, we see Darwin ransacking his old notes, studying the expressions of children and domestic pets, firing letters in every direction, contacting directors of lunatic asylums and medical and art photographers for photographs to illustrate his thesis. "The expressions that pass over human faces", writes Browne, "were, to him, a daily, living proof of animal ancestry." And it struck a responsive chord in his readers. The Expression of the Emotions in Man and Animals sold very well.

In Browne's last 3 chapters, we see Darwin returning to his beloved botanical studies and his earthworms, enjoying Punch's ape-man cartoons, managing a stream of visitors with the aid of his family and friends, answering letters inquiring about his religious views without equivocation ("these were the most godless years of his life"), promoting his sons' careers, accepting the honors bestowed upon him with due modesty, promoting the cause of science in every way he could, and, in May l876, beginning work on an autobiography. In Browne's view, Darwin, for all his brilliance in analyzing scientific problems, was not good at self-analysis. "He was", she says, "constructing himself not as a person, living and growing, but as a series of publications, an author." Only on the subject of religion did he drop his self-protective guard. He seemed, says Browne, to accept loss of faith as an inevitable feature of the life of a scientist. "No other experiences, he implied, could match those he encountered in science." Inward conviction of God's existence could not be trusted, nor could he trust his own reason in the matter, knowing that his mental faculties were developed from "a mind as low as that possessed by the lowest animal."

Although Darwin could not know it, at the same time that he was writing his autobiography, Arthur James Balfour was hard at work on a book entitled A Defence of Philosophic Doubt. Being an Essay on the Foundations of Belief. This book, published in 1879, contained a searching critique of the positivistic, agnostic, empiricist philosophy of science and nature advocated by John Stuart Mill, Herbert Spencer, John Tyndall, and others, and proposed instead that both science and theology were attempting to represent in human terms a reality transcending the power of human thought to imagine correctly or grasp fully. In 1895, in his next book Foundations of Belief, Balfour extended his critique to embrace Darwin's evolutionary naturalism, arguing that it deprived the Victorian values cherished by Darwin, Huxley, and Balfour himself of any rational foundation, thereby undercutting the foundations of Western civilization. Huxley, then struggling with his final illness, mustered enough strength to defend agnosticism and predict the eventual triumph of the scientific spirit over Judaeo-Christian obscurantism. The debate over evolutionary naturalism thus begun is still with us. One wonders what Darwin's position would be in the light of twentieth-century developments in science, warfare, and Western culture.

Janet Browne's biography does not raise these questions. But no one has described Darwin in his Victorian context better or more engagingly than she. Her prose is well-nigh perfect, her research exhaustive, her powers of empathy remarkable, her 24 pages of illustrations fascinating and illuminating, her judgments well balanced. Darwin could not have asked for a more sympathetic, discerning, and thorough biographer.

About the Author(s): 
John C Greene
Professor Emeritus of History
University of Connecticut
651 Sinex Avenue
Pacific Grove CA 93950

RNCSE 22 (6)

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Volume: 
22
Issue: 
6
Year: 
2002
Date: 
November–December
Articles available online are listed below.

John A Moore: A Champion of Evolution

An ardent long-time supporter of NCSE, the distinguished biologist John A Moore, Professor Emeritus of Biology at the University of California, Riverside (UCR), died in May 2002, a month short of his 87th birthday. John had a passionate commitment to improving the teaching of biology and stressed that evolution is the essential framework on which such teaching must rest.



John was born in rural West Virginia, where he acquired a lifelong interest in natural history. He published his first research paper in Auk in 1931 at the age of 16. His senior year of high school was spent in New York, where, while volunteering at the American Museum of Natural History, he formed a lifelong friendship with Ernst Mayr. From there, he entered Columbia University, where he specialized in embryology and genetics, receiving his PhD in 1940. In 1938, he married a fellow graduate student in zoology, Betty Clark. Betty was his scientific collaborator and co-author throughout their long and happy life together.

While in his 20s, he taught at Queens College of the City University of New York and Barnard College, but soon returned to Columbia University, where he remained until 1968. At Columbia, he rose rapidly to be Professor of Zoology and chairman of an illustrious department that included Theodosius Dobzhansky, among other outstanding biologists. In 1969, he moved to UCR, from which he retired in 1982. As a Professor Emeritus, he not only actively pursued research but also provided service to scientific and educational organizations. In fact, John served on more than 30 national committees on biological sciences education, for such organizations as the National Research Council, the American Association for the Advancement of Science, and the American Institute for Biological Sciences (AIBS). The latest of the many awards John received came from AIBS, which honored him with its 2002 Education Award for his efforts in the public understanding of science and the teaching of evolution.

His research on a wide variety of biological topics — especially herpetology, developmental biology, and population genetics — received widespread recognition. He was elected a fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1960 and a member of the National Academy of Sciences in 1963. He was President of the Society for the Study of Evolution in 1963 and President of the American Society of Zoologists in 1974. One form of recognition, which he related to me with a special twinkle in his eyes, was the illustration of one of his research subjects in an unusually widely distributed format. John's research in herpetology took the Moores to Australia in 1952-3, resulting in his monograph on Australian frogs, which included the description of several new species. One of these, the spectacularly colored Corroboree frog, was later featured on a beautiful Australian postage stamp!

John was a champion for the cause of improving education in biology. His first major book, Principles of Zoology, published by Oxford University Press in 1957, was a widely adopted undergraduate textbook that influenced a whole generation of biologists in the US. He believed that modern biology and evolution should also be integral parts of a well-rounded education for non-scientists and should therefore be promoted at the K-12 level. He was one of the founders of the Biological Sciences Curriculum Study. In 1960, he supervised the preparation of one of the BSCS's first high school textbooks, Biological Sciences: An Inquiry into Life. It sold more than two million copies and for 20 years was the leading high school biology text using an inquiry-based approach.

The one unifying theme of John's approach to teaching was his insistence on placing each topic into its broad historical perspective as a way of understanding the development of scientific thought and showing how this development is influenced by the social context of the times. In 1993, Harvard University Press published John's seminal book, Science as a Way of Knowing: The Foundations of Modern Biology. It concerns the development of the major ideas of the biological sciences and explores their historical roots and the growth of the concept of evolution. He described his reasons for writing this book as follows:
There can be no future for the human experiment unless a critical mass of involved people understands that the laws of nature constrain our activities and that our solutions to these problems must be based on knowledge and not blind adherence to fads.
John edited 6 more volumes in what became a series of Science as a Way of Knowing books written by outstanding biologists.

During the 1970s and 1980s, John became increasingly concerned with the inroads being made by the resurgence of so-called scientific creationism. John saw this as an attempt to return to the science of the first half of the 19th century, before Darwin. He frequently pointed out that the modern creationists and proponents of "intelligent design" are the direct intellectual descendants of William Paley and his Natural Theology; or Evidences of the Existence and Attributes of the Deity (1802). The indifference of many mainstream biologists to the challenges being made by the burgeoning creationist movement concerned John greatly. His initial attempts to get the National Academy of Science involved in the creation/evolution issue met with failure. He therefore wrote numerous articles countering creationism and published them in journals such as Perspectives in Biology and Medicine, Journal of Geological Education, Journal of Science Teacher Education, Academe, Daedalus, and The American Biology Teacher. Subsequent events, including those in Kansas in 1999, among others, brought home to many scientists that the impact of creationists on the public at large and on K-12 education in particular is too important to ignore. The National Academy of Sciences reconsidered its position, and John served on the committee that wrote Science and Creationism: A View from the National Academy of Sciences (second edition, 1999).

John was the author or editor of more than 180 articles and books. The most recent of these should be well known to the readers of RNCSE. In February 2002, the University of California Press published John's last book, From Genesis to Genetics: The Case of Evolution and Creationism. In it, he explains that for religion and science to coexist, they must be free to do the good for which each is uniquely qualified. He describes the ancestry of ancient creation myths and the history of biblical interpretations of the Book of Genesis. He reviews the historical context of creationism and intelligent design in the 19th century and the development of evolutionary thought. Finally, he strongly advocates strengthening the separation of science and faith in our educational system. All this is written with his usual, and awesome, breadth of scholarship and fluid style.

On the personal level, John was admired and loved by all who knew him. The enthusiasm for the natural world that he acquired as a boy never left him, but his interests were not limited to science: widely read in culture and history and with a strong appreciation for the arts, he exemplified the conception of a Renaissance Man. He was very supportive of his associates and students, freely giving them encouragement with his gentle, though penetrating, questions and humor that helped them to develop their ideas. At the memorial meeting for John held at UCR in May 2002, Bruce Albert, the president of the National Academy of Sciences, talked at length about the great influence that John had had on him, calling him his "hero and role model". And I am proud to have been numbered among his friends.

There is no more fitting way to conclude this tribute to John Moore's contributions than by quoting the concluding words of From Genesis to Genetics, in which he lauds those individuals down the ages who, by using their unfettered minds for rational inquiry, gave us:
the modern world and the possibility of truly great improvement of the human condition. They have replaced the primitive view of nature as chaotic, mysterious, and often threatening with a view of the universe and life as responding in patterns that are precise, beautiful, and awe-inspiring. Beyond giving pleasure to the inquisitive, analytical mind, this progress in understanding provides previously unimagined ways to feed the hungry, heal the sick, and lessen toil. Lives are poorly lived when they look out upon a cold, hostile, inscrutable world; lives are enhanced when they look out upon a world with appreciation of its beauty and order and its suitability as a warm and friendly home. It matters little for the great moral and ethical questions facing humanity whether or not the human brain and mind are the consequences of random events in evolution, though scientists are convinced they are. However, it matters a great deal that we use our brains and minds honestly, humanely, intensively, and effectively to preserve and improve the world for ourselves and for generations that follow (p 206).
John A Moore had just such a mind, honest and humane, one that worked intensively and effectively to improve the world of biology and of all who knew and interacted with him.

NCSE Members Reply to Cal Thomas

In late August 2002, Cal Thomas devoted his syndicated column to calling for "equal time" for creationism in the science classrooms of the public schools. (The column appeared on a variety of dates and under a variety of headlines, the most common of which was "Making monkeys out of evolutionists"; it is available on-line, dated August 27, 2002, at http://www.townhall.com/columnists/calthomas/ct20020827.shtml). In it, all the familiar tropes of creationism are dutifully employed: likening of evolutionists to apes ("pro-evolution forces jumped from their trees and started behaving as if someone had stolen their bananas"), quote-mining of popular and dated sources ("No less a pro-evolution source than Science Digest noted in 1979..."), citation of scientists of the past who supposedly would have agreed with creationism (Johannes Kepler and Wernher von Braun, both of whose first names Thomas misspelled), dogged insistence on a false dichotomy ("There are only two models for the origin of humans: evolution and creation"), and, of course, equation of evolution with atheism ("Anything involving God, or His works, [contemporary evolutionists] believe, is to be censored...").

In addition to Daniel J Phelps's op-ed (see article following), the responses of several NCSE members appeared all across the country. Kudos to them and to everyone who wrote to their local newspapers to attempt to counter Thomas's column.

A long op-ed entitled "Faulty biblical literalism doesn't belong in schools" by Gary Bennett appeared in the Idaho Statesman (2002 Sep 14; available on-line at http://www.idahostatesman.com/Opinion/ReadersOpinions/story.asp?ID=20364). Bennett ironically proposed that "students should also be allowed to vote on the biblical description of the earth (flat) versus the scientific observation of the earth (spheroidal)", adding, "In case anyone thinks this is absurd, consider that the creationist [Tom Willis] who gutted the Kansas school standards three years ago isn't sure that the sun doesn't go around the earth, because that's how the Bible describes it". He went on to explain that evolution is not a theory in crisis and that most of the mainstream religious denominations in the United States do not regard it as theologically problematic. Ending with a reference to Kenneth R Miller's Finding Darwin's God, Bennett wrote, "Apparently the creationist god is too puny to create something as complex as evolution."

Tom Kerr wrote to the editor of the Contra Costa Times (published in Walnut Creek, California) to complain that Thomas apparently "chooses to ignore the overwhelming evidence that has established evolution as the foundation of modern biology. Evolution is simply the best explanation of biological and paleontological data available." He also noted that most mainstream churches accept evolution and support evolution education. He concluded, "This issue shouldn't be about fear or faith. For the sake of our students and the quality of education, we can't afford to teach bad science alongside good." Kerr's letter was published on September 13, 2002.

NCSE Supporter Michael Ruse, Lucyle T Werkmeister Professor of Philosophy at Florida State University, contributed an op-ed piece to the Tallahassee Democrat: "Genesis has no place in science class" (2002 Sep 1; available on-line at http://www.tallahassee.com/mld/democrat/news/opinion/3964995.htm). Emphasizing the continued need for separation of church and state, Ruse remarked, "Science tells us that life developed slowly and naturally from primitive beginnings up to the forms that exist today — evolution. And science tells that we humans are part of this process; Homo sapiens evolved about a million or so years ago. This is what is science, and this is what is and should be taught." Responding to Thomas's contention that it is only fair to teach evolution and Genesis side-by-side in science classrooms, Ruse said, "what should be taught as the best science should not be something open to democratic vote ... Science tells us that evolution is the answer. Let us leave matters at that and move on to other issues. Never forget, if we are indeed made in God's image, then turning our backs on where our intelligence leads us is spurning his greatest gift of all."

David E Thomas, president of New Mexicans for Science and Reason, wrote to the Albuquerque Journal to protest Thomas's column. Dave — it is necessary to use first names here, for obvious reasons — ironically remarked that Cal's enthusiasm for "equal time" is apparently quite selective: "Surely, this is not the same Thomas who calls for schools to get back to math and science basics, and to stop wasting students' time on 'trendy subjects' like 'sex-ed, environmental-ed and homosexual-ed.'" He also took issue with Cal's "repeated implication that one must choose between evolution and God," explaining, "This is a crock. Many religious groups have no problem accepting modern science, including evolution." Dave ended by rebutting Cal's assertion that both creationism and evolution are untestable, pointing out that the discovery of the Toumai skull and the completion of the sequencing of the human genome both could have conceivably overturned evolution. His letter appeared on September 6, 2002.

New OSU Dean an Evolution Activist

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
New OSU Dean an Evolution Activist
Volume: 
22
Issue: 
6
Year: 
2002
Date: 
November–December
Page(s): 
5
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
Joan M Herbers, recently appointed Dean of the College of Biological Sciences at the Ohio State University, has a history of active support for evolution education — one that she expects to continue. Herbers comes to OSU from Colorado State University, where she headed the Biology Department for 8 years. She was active in supporting evolution education during a creationist episode in the Poudre School District in Fort Collins, Colorado, as she and NCSE member Michael F Antolin describe in their "Evolution's struggle for existence in America's public schools" (Evolution 2001 Dec; 55 [12]: 2379-88; see also RNCSE 1999; 19 [4]: 4-5 and 1999; 19 [5]: 10). Herbers told the Columbus Dispatch (2002 Sep 8) that she plans to participate in the process of developing science education standards based on strong evolutionary foundations.

Ohio Reflections

Reports of the National Center for Science Education
Title: 
Ohio Reflections
Author(s): 
Eric Meikle
NCSE Outreach Coordinator
Volume: 
22
Issue: 
6
Year: 
2002
Date: 
November–December
Page(s): 
4
This version might differ slightly from the print publication.
The Ohio State Board of Education (OBE) voted to adopt new academic content standards for science on December 10, 2002. The vote, 18-0 with one member absent, brought to a close a year-long process of writing and revising that sparked debate across the state about how evolution should be presented. Supporters of science education have welcomed the new standards as a great improvement over Ohio's previous guidelines, which avoided the word "evolution" entirely and referred only vaguely to "change through time". (For previous reports on 2002 events in Ohio related to the new standards, see "Ohio overthrows Scopes legacy", RNCSE 2002 Sep/Oct; 22 [5]: 4-6.)

Final adoption of the standards had been expected following the unanimous OBE vote in October of "intent to adopt" a revised draft received from the board's Standards Committee. As required by state law, the new standards were also presented to a joint meeting of the Ohio General Assembly's House and Senate Education Committees in mid-November. However, the legislature played no direct role in approving or adopting the standards. Two proposed bills introduced early in 2002 would have required votes by both houses to approve new science standards (but not standards for any other subject). These bills, which were seen by some as an attempt to influence the standards-writing process by legislators opposed to evolution, never progressed out of committee during the 2002 General Assembly session.

Opponents of evolution education worked hard all year to diminish or delete its role in the new standards, which will now form the basis on which a curriculum guide and required statewide tests will be written. The most publicly active opponents were associated with the American Family Association of Ohio, Intelligent Design Network (headquartered in Kansas), and the Discovery Institute (in Seattle). However, the great majority of the teachers, scientists, and others selected by the Ohio Department of Education to advise on and actually write the science standards were not swayed by the now-common tactics and arguments of those who lobbied either against evolution or in favor of including "intelligent design theory" (which in practice consists almost entirely of "evidence against evolution"). During the year, the OBE's Standards Committee made some minor changes to the standards which were seen by evolution supporters such as Ohio Citizens for Science as unnecessary or potentially encouraging to anti-evolutionists. Following the October OBE meeting, attention was focused on a sentence added by the Standards Committee to the 10th-grade Life Sciences section: "Describe how scientists continue to investigate and critically analyze aspects of evolutionary theory."

Why single out evolution?

Those who follow the creation/evolution controversy know that we at NCSE are opposed to any special singling out of evolution from among other scientific theories in this way. Scientists continue to investigate and analyze critically all scientific theories, every day. Why make such a point of critically analyzing only one such theory, unless the intention is to raise doubts about evolution's central place in biology and its overwhelming acceptance among biological scientists? It is possible that such language, mentioning only evolution by name, may be taken by some in local districts as an endorsement of "evidence against evolution" or support for "teaching the controversy". These are rhetorical code phrases frequently used by anti-evolutionists.

In response to the expression of such concerns by Ohio residents following the October meeting, the Board of Education (OBE) in December amended the relevant life science indicator and benchmark to add one more sentence: "The intent of this indicator/benchmark does not mandate the teaching or testing of intelligent design." Board member Michael Cochran, one of its most vocal questioners of evolution, was quoted in a December 11 Department of Education press release as saying, "It was never our position nor our intent to mandate the teaching of 'intelligent design'. But if a teacher or local board wants to explore alternatives to evolution, they can."

Anti-evolutionists continue to do their best to portray the Ohio standards as some sort of victory in their efforts to remove the topic from America's public schools. Somehow the single sentence "Describe how scientists continue to investigate and critically analyze aspects of evolutionary theory" has been transmuted in some accounts into "Students will criticize evolution" (emphases added in each). Any objective reading of the entire standards document shows its clear intent of having students in science classes study and understand the natural world from a scientific perspective. This includes learning the basics of modern biology and evolution as understood by the scientific community. As always, what actually happens in individual classrooms will be a function of teacher, students, school, district, community, and so on. State standards are important in influencing the process, but hardly all-controlling. Standards are positive, not negative, documents. They do not prohibit subjects or list what will not be covered; they establish only what will be expected.

Students in Ohio and elsewhere remain free, as they always have been, to criticize whatever they wish. It is probably better, however, if they have some knowledge and understanding of a topic before embarking on criticism. Ohio students will now have the opportunity to learn about the science of evolution, thanks to the efforts of the educators, scientists, and others who wrote and supported the new standards.

Coming soon to your neighborhood?

Other states that are creating or revising science standards may expect similar attacks on evolution to occur. Check with your state department of education to find out if you may be in line behind Kansas and Ohio for a future public conflict. And please keep NCSE up to date on challenges to evolution education in your region.

About the Author(s): 
Eric Meikle
NCSE
PO Box 9477
Berkeley CA 94709-0477
meikle@ncseweb.org

Remembering Stephen Jay Gould


Steve Gould wrote like no one else in our field — or in any other field. His sentences were long, erudite, and full of parenthetical phrases, allusions to classical literature, intellectual history, philosophy of science, art, music, historical personages, and baseball. His short pieces always had a moral, and usually it was about how important it is to see biology through the glass of evolution. His point was often that evolution uses what is available to form new structures and functions; it is not necessary to create structures de novo, to wait for new complexes of genes to arrive, or to pretend that such new features are impossible to evolve. In this way, he met the challenges of the adaptationists, the population geneticists, and the creationists at the same time. His lesson was that in the functional design of organisms, evolutionary history is as important as any other factor. Such a lesson could only come from a paleobiologist. But it had to be from a paleobiologist who understood history.

And Steve understood history very well, above all the history of evolutionary thought. He knew that we ourselves live in a moment of history that will later be interpreted for its intellectual values: the values that we place on previous history, how we interpret historical concepts and personages in the light of these values, how we reformulate and answer the eternal questions about evolution, form and function, process and pattern. This awareness of history is present in his earliest works, and is shown masterfully in his 1972 paper with Niles Eldredge on punctuated equilibria. Indeed, one of the first sections of that paper is entitled "The cloven footprint of theory". Even then, he tried to teach paleontologists and biologists that one cannot approach a set of data without any idea of what one expects to find.

Part of the rhetorical genius of punctuated equilibria was that it did not deny the central mechanisms of the Modern Synthesis of evolution that were assembled since the 1930s. On the contrary, Eldredge and Gould showed that the principal model of evolutionary change in populations was not a slow, gradual divergence and genetic differentiation around a geographic or ecological barrier. Rather, Ernst Mayr himself had championed the idea that it was around the edges of the total range of a species that evolutionary change could occur most quickly. This was a piece of rhetorical genius, in my view, because (for better or worse) it did not challenge the findings of other fields but rather strove to work with them. Of course, as we know, their hypothesis was not perceived in this way, but that is not their fault.

Steve was equally famous for putting into accessible words many concepts that had previously been poorly articulated or related to more general ideas. With Elisabeth Vrba he developed the concept of exaptation and other terms associated with the idea of how selection puts existing structures to new uses. With Richard Lewontin he criticized the "adaptationist program" that pervaded much Anglo-American functional and evolutionary biology — using again his favorite metaphors from ecclesiastical architecture. And his book Ontogeny and Phylogeny, published in 1977, provided the historical framework and the patterns of paleontological evidence that could bring together once more two sciences that had been separated for a century. His masterwork, The Structure of Evolutionary Theory, a book on which he worked for 25 years, is the final chapter of his legacy, and it will be interesting to see how it is received.

In losing Steve, the community also loses a good friend. He was a jovial, expansive man, always glad to see a colleague, and he remembered and appreciated one's contributions. Through the years, we had many memorable discussions on all kinds of subjects. We shared a great interest in the history of evolutionary thought and how it affected the current of evolutionary research today. However, we could never come to discuss science, or even Darwin, Owen, and other historical personages, without first discussing a topic of even more important common interest: baseball. We shared this passion, and although I never got to accompany Steve to a game at Fenway or Yankee Stadium, I did have the pleasure of taking him to an Oakland A's game at the Coliseum. Steve was the only person I ever knew who referred to the New York Yankees as "we".